Surrounded by controversy, the CEO of Honolulu’s rail project resigned Thursday after nearly four-and-a-half years at the helm.
Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) executive director and CEO Dan Grabauskas’ last day in office is today, Aug. 18. His official final day will be Oct. 17.
Grabauskas will be paid the final year of contract as part of the separation agreement, a total of $282,250:
“$257,250.00 (as a severance payment) plus $25,000.00 (for all fees and costs incurred by you and for the waiver and release from you set forth in Paragraph 6 of this Agreement)…”
6. Waiver and Release by You. In consideration of the payments set forth in Paragraph 1 of this Agreement, you agree as follows: (a) To the extent permitted by law, you hereby IRREVOCABLY AND UNCONDITIONALLY RELEASE, WAIVE AND FOREVER DISCHARGE HART and Releases (as that term is defined below) from and against any and all agreements, promises, liabilities, claims, demands, grievances, injuries, controversies, covenants, debts, accounts, sums of money, actions, causes of action, suits, arbitrations, attorneys’ fees, costs, rights to any monetary damages or any other form of personal relief, and rights and entitlements of any kind whatsoever capable of legally being waived…
“It has been an honor and pleasure to have worked on this transformational project,” Grabauskas said in a statement. “I believe in the project and its importance to the residents of Oahu, and by stepping aside today I hope to allow HART to move forward to ultimate success with fresh leadership.”
“We are very thankful to Dan for all of his years of dedicated service to the rail project. The project got off to a strong start because of his energy and enthusiasm. We wish him well,” said HART board chairwoman Colleen Hanabusa.
In February of 2012, Grabauskas was first named as a finalist for the position. Two months later, in April, he officially started the job.
The board appointed HART board member Mike Formby, who is also director of the city’s Department of Transportation Services, as acting CEO, effective immediately.
Formby resigned from his board position once he accepted the appointment. Pending the mayor’s approval, he will still earn his city salary, but shifts his focus to HART while DTS deputy director Mark Garrity leads the department.
“I look forward to working closely with deputy executive director Brennon Morioka and the hard-working HART staff as we move quickly to strengthen our working relationship with the Mayor, the Honolulu City Council, the State of Hawaii and the Federal Transit Administration,” Formby said. “As a HART board member, I am familiar with the many challenges facing this project and I am committed to working with the HART team to move this project forward in a manner that is transparent, responsive and in the best interest of the transit riders and taxpayers.”
“The HART board wanted to act swiftly but prudently so that the business of HART is not interrupted by Dan Grabauskas’ resignation,” Hanabusa said. “We are fortunate that Mike has the knowledge and leadership skills and was willing to assume this temporary assignment while the board recruits for and fills the position of executive director and CEO.”The search for a replacement
The HART board also passed a motion to start recruiting. A permitted interaction group will search for qualified candidates to fill the executive director, CEO position.
Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell and Honolulu City Council chairman Ernie Martin say they want someone with a different set of skills, who can communicate better so there will be no more surprises.
As it stands now, the rail project is about $1.5 billion short of funding to get it all the way to Ala Moana Center. The rising cost has been a major problem and critics say it’s partly because Dan Grabauskas did not keep the interested parties informed.
The mayor says the new executive director has to be “someone who can work openly and transparently to you guys with the public, with the Legislature, with the council and, of course, with the mayor’s office.”
Martin had called for Grabauskas’ resignation months ago and says the change in leadership is necessary.
“To get us back especially in restoring some level of confidence in the project,” he said. “I think confidence has been waning. I think there are questions of whether the project has been managed appropriately.”
Both say they also want the new executive director to have more knowledge in construction in order to better control costs.
There is no strict timeline on when the position will be filled. Both the mayor and the council chairman say they want it done as soon as possible with the best candidate available.
The new executive director also faces the toughest part of the project as it makes its way through town, and should be willing to embrace the challenges.
But will he or she also demand a higher salary?
“It’s probably going to cost us significantly more than presently what it’s costing us, but at the end of the day, if he’s going to save us billions, then maybe it’s an investment worthwhile,” Martin said.
“I’m hoping we’ll get an executive director who’s dealt with those challenges in the past, is not learning on the job, but knows what needs to be done and is addressing them before they even become challenges,” Caldwell said.
Both say they’re confident HART will be able to find someone willing to embrace the challenges and with the right skills.