Honolulu rail board does not have enough votes to remove CEO

HONOLULU — The Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation board of directors could not muster enough votes Thursday to act on a recommendation to cut ties with the chief executive of the city’s massive rail transit project.

The full board failed to follow the recommendation of the authority’s human resources committee to allow the expiration of its employment contract with CEO and Executive Director Andrew Robbins, who is the city’s highest paid employee.

“We do not have enough votes to pass this,” board Chairman Toby Martyn said Thursday.

Robbins’ three-year contract expires Dec. 31, and the human resources panel recommended replacing him.

Robbins earned $317,000 annually. His contract also granted a $55,000 annual housing allowance and a $7,200-a-year transportation allowance with the possibility of future raises and bonuses.

Robbins, 62, oversaw the authority’s recovery plan and has steered the $9.2 billion transit project toward a projected start of limited service next year.

Honolulu Deputy Corporation Counsel Randall Ishikawa said the board could rehire Robbins on an interim basis.

The board held four closed-door sessions evaluating Robbins between August and September.

Board Vice Chairman Terrence Lee voted in an open session Thursday against the recommendation of the human resources committee and suggested he might be willing to retain Robbins on a month-to-month basis, but not with another 3-year or 5-year contract.

“In terms of Andy’s performance I will readily admit that there’s some decisions that Andy has made that I disagree with,” said Lee, the longest-serving member on the authority’s board.

Despite existing problems, Robbins has done well in “keeping this project on a more stable footing and a more predictable footing than we’ve ever had in the past,” Lee said.

The rail development has experienced a series of delays, including rescheduling the completion date from December to March for the first 10-mile (16-kilometer) segment from East Kapolei to Aloha Stadium.

The final, downtown leg stretching 4 miles (6.4 kilometers) is expected to be the most expensive, and the selection of a private developer has been delayed several times.

Changing leadership now is “probably the worst thing we can do” and would hurt the state’s largest public works project, board member Kika Bukoski said Thursday.

Board member Lynn McCrory, the chair of the committee which recommended against renewing Robbins’ contract, was critical of the delays incurred during his tenure.

“This is not going to get better,” McCrory said. “It’s just crawling along.”

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