HART Meeting Tomorrow: More Broken Promises and Lack of Transparency

The Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transit (HART) board of directors will meet at 8 a.m. tomorrow, and there are several things we should all be concerned about:

• a resolution requesting that the Honolulu City Council approve a bond float for the much-talked-about $44 million for HART marketing and personnel costs;

• the potential that the board “may” go into Executive Session regarding several issues that should be discussed in public; and

• the lack of a discussion item regarding the state auditor’s concern about HART management recording employees during interviews.

When I read the agenda, I was shocked to see a resolution requesting that the Honolulu City Council approve the issuance of bonds to cover the $44 million. This $44 million was initially put into the city’s capital improvement (CIP) budget by the mayor and then moved to HART’s CIP budget by the council.

During two months of budget discussions, we were told several times that HART had the money to pay these costs. We were reassured that no bonds would be needed for next fiscal year. Even as recently as the June 6 full council meeting, the $44 million was referred to as just “a placeholder,” similar to having a line of credit available.

Who knew that this was not correct? When did they know it? When will we be given accurate and complete information?

It’s also important to note that this resolution calls for the $44 million to be repaid with city funds, which breaks another promise that was made to us with respect to the rail project, i.e., that no city money (read “real property taxes”) would be used for rail construction.

If that isn’t enough for people to be concerned about rail finances, the HART board may go into “Executive Session” on five items including approval of the budgets that the council just passed, the bond approval requests (there’s another one for $450 million), a change order and the discussion on public-private partnerships. (This last one is a biggie, because it will cover the City Center Guideway and Stations – the last major piece of the rail project to be contracted.) All of these issues should be discussed in the open. Executive sessions are closed to the public, however.

What are they trying to hide? Have costs gone up yet again?

And finally, it’s notable that there is no discussion slated regarding management’s policy of recording employees during state audit interviews. During the last HART board meeting, Les Kondo, the state auditor, expressed serious concerns about this practice and asked that it be stopped. A former state attorney general has said it is illegal to record employees in this manner, and at least two board members had questions about the issue. No discussion took place, because corporation counsel stated it wasn’t allowed due to sunshine law restrictions. (Thank you to Tom Yamachika for the reminder that the board could have voted to sunshine the item onto the agenda.) Most employees will likely not feel free to openly discuss their concerns in this type of environment, yet there appears to be no follow up by the board.

I agree with HART board member John Henry Felix -– it’s time for a “forensic audit.” We cannot afford to continue the way we have.

The HART board meeting will be broadcast live on Olelo 53.

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It’s Not About the Tree – How a Process was Subverted and a Community Divided

The November 2017 meeting of the Hawaii Kai Neighborhood Board was the toughest public meeting I’ve ever been to, with emotions running high.  Members of the community who attended the meeting spoke passionately about their desire to support a lighted tree at Maunalua Bay, except the item on the agenda that evening was not about a tree . . . it was about a process that did not follow the law or include proper disclosures.

Following is a timeline of events related to the city’s acceptance of a gift of a lighted tree at Maunalua Bay:

  • April 26, 2017 – First reading of Bill 40 to create an adopt-a-tree-program to be administered by the city Department of Parks and Recreation is passed by council.
  • May 2, 2017 – Bill 40 discussed in Committee of Parks, Community and Customer Services. The director of DPR opposed the resolution.
  • May 10, 2017 – Bill 40 passed second reading by full council.
  • May 30, 2017 – At the meeting of the Hawaii Kai Neighborhood Board, Councilmember Ozawa announced that a bill was introduced to adopt the tree at Joe Lukela Beach Park.  I was asked by a board member to monitor the progress of Bill 40.
  • August 22, 2017 – Bill 40 was placed on the agenda of the council’s parks committee, but it was cancelled prior to the meeting.
  • October 24, 2017 (morning) – Resolution 17-278, which is for approval of acceptance of a gift of a trellis system and solar powered panels to power lights for a tree, was discussed in the parks committee.  The gift was valued at $58,000, but there was no mention of the location of this gift.  (Edit for clarification — there was no mention of the location of the gift in the resolution.)
  • October 24, 2017 (evening) – Resolution 17-278 was not mentioned during Councilmember Ozawa’s report at the Hawaii Kai Neighborhood Board meeting.
  • November 1, 2017 – Resolution 17-278, CD1, was not on the agenda that was posted prior to the meeting, but it was “sunshined” onto the agenda unanimously by councilmembers near the end of the meeting, after most members of the public had left.  The CD1 version of the resolution stated a value of $40,000.
  • November 6, 2017 – Two requests were received for agenda items for the November 28, 2017, meeting of the Hawaii Kai Neighborhood Board:  1) A local nonprofit organization requested to have a discussion about the process of acceptance of the gift of a lighted tree, and 2) Councilmember Ozawa, through his staff, requested to have a discussion about the lighting of the tree at Maunalua Bay. The board voted to support more openness and discussion regarding issues of this type in the future

According to Hawaii Revised Statutes Sec. 92-7, the council is not allowed to change an agenda once it has been filed if an item is of “reasonably major importance” and will “affect a significant number of persons.”  The state Office of Information Practices has also stated that agenda items must include “sufficient detail and specificity,” so that members of the public understand what is to be discussed without having to look elsewhere.  The council did not follow the Sunshine Law with respect to this gift, and that was the main concern of members of the Hawaii Kai Neighborhood Board.

Council Bill 40 – status and communications

Council Resolution 17-278 status and communications

Testimony of Hawaii Kai Neighborhood Board 12-6-17

Testimony of Natalie Iwasa 12-6-17

Video recording of Hawaii Kai Neighborhood Board Meeting November 28, 2017