July 19, 2024


Costing Accounting Everyday

Salary Data Shows Hundreds Of Honolulu City Employees Earn Much More Than Residents

Correction: An earlier version of this report contained inaccurate database information provided by the City & County of Honolulu. It has been corrected.

Editor’s note: Civil Beat is updating its Public Employee Salaries Database for the 2022 fiscal year that began July 1. Click here to see the latest from all state and county agencies, as well as all information for prior fiscal years dating back to 2011 and a portal to related articles.

Hundreds of Honolulu employees are earning far more than average island residents, according to salary data obtained by Civil Beat.

The median household income for Honolulu County was $85,857 in 2019, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The salary data shows at least 500 city employees are making more than that in the 2022 fiscal year, which is about 5{b8604b790e1eec12d9dfb130b86c98e017a524691211b164c2301e656b67e631} of the workforce.

However, it is likely much more. For most city workers, exact salary amounts are shielded from public view, and the city provided only broad ranges. For instance, about 200 fire captains make somewhere between about $85,000 and $120,000. 

Honolulu Hale City Hall building. 17 april 2017
Some city employees are earning more than double the median household income of the community. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Along with the city’s top leaders, those earning more than the area median include police lieutenants, prosecutors and corporation counsel attorneys, city planners, engineers, data processors, housing services administrators and battalion chiefs in the fire department. 

This year’s top-paid city employee is the medical examiner, Masahiko Kobayashi, who earns $310,200. 

His salary can be explained in part by supply and demand. Kobayashi has specialized training in a profession experiencing a severe, nationwide worker shortage, according to the National Association of Medical Examiners. 

Coming in at No. 2 is Lori Kahikina, the interim director of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, who earns $275,000 annually to lead the troubled project. Her predecessor, Andy Robbins, made even more – $317,000 – in the prior year. 

This year, Rick Keene, the deputy director at HART, follows his boss as the third highest-paid city worker at $200,000 per year. 

Mayor Rick Blangiardi extends gathering mandates another 28 more days, limiting 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors.
Mayor Rick Blangiardi is the city’s top executive but not its top earner. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

Mayor Rick Blangiardi is making $186,000 annually. Accounting for inflation, that’s a nearly 33{b8604b790e1eec12d9dfb130b86c98e017a524691211b164c2301e656b67e631} increase over the mayor’s salary a decade ago, according to city salary data Civil Beat has obtained over the past 10 years. The mayor made just under $116,000 in the 2012 fiscal year. 

The mayor’s salary is set by the Honolulu Salary Commission, a volunteer group that also sets the pay rates for Honolulu City Council members and city appointees.

Honolulu’s mayor last received a raise in 2019 when the commission opted to give then-Mayor Kirk Caldwell a bump of 3.5{b8604b790e1eec12d9dfb130b86c98e017a524691211b164c2301e656b67e631}. 

In 2020, in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, the commission received pushback when its committee proposed 3{b8604b790e1eec12d9dfb130b86c98e017a524691211b164c2301e656b67e631} raises for all officials under its purview. After the mayor rejected the move, the commission quickly backtracked, and no raises were proposed. Earlier this year, the commission again recommended no raises for top officials. 

Managing Director Mike Formby earns $178,320 annually, a 22{b8604b790e1eec12d9dfb130b86c98e017a524691211b164c2301e656b67e631} increase over his predecessor a decade ago, accounting for inflation. In the 2012 fiscal year, Honolulu’s managing director was making $120,396 per year – or $145,786.48 in 2021 dollars. 

Most of the directors of city departments make $166,560, including the directors of emergency services, enterprise services and parks and recreation. 

Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Steve Alm makes $176,688, the same his predecessor Keith Kaneshiro made while on paid administrative leave in 2020. A decade ago, Kaneshiro was making $129,312, or $156,721 in today’s dollars. 

At the Honolulu City Council, Chair Tommy Waters makes $76,968, and all other members make $68,904 per year. The positions are technically considered part-time jobs, and several council members earn additional income elsewhere, according to their financial disclosures


Thirteen council employees make over $100,000. Council Director James Williston, City Clerk Glen Takahashi and auditor Troy Shimasaki all top the council list with $166,560.

At the Board of Water Supply, a semi-autonomous agency that operates separately from city departments, Manager and Chief Engineer Ernie Lau tops the salary list with $191,432. 

The city’s executive branch lost 4{b8604b790e1eec12d9dfb130b86c98e017a524691211b164c2301e656b67e631} of its workforce in the past two years, according to the data. There were 9,841 non-legislative employees in the 2022 fiscal year.

Civil Beat’s salary database covers only base salaries, not overtime or other pay. So employees like police officers who can double their base salaries with overtime are not reflected as the city’s top earners. 

The city has declined requests to release exact salaries and overtime totals, but information provided to Civil Beat last year showed some officers were earning more than the mayor and police chief.

Coming soon: A closer look at salaries paid to government workers in neighbor islands, as well as the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.