Posted tagged ‘City Council’

Is Water Board out of control?

July 29, 2011

In the fight with the City Council over control of the new rail authority, HART, the Carlisle administration has often cited the Board of Water Supply as a shining example of a semi-autonomous agency that sets its own spending without council oversight.

Former Councilman Charles Djou turned that reasoning around in an op-ed piece in yesterday’s Star-Advertiser, arguing that the Water Board has displayed questionable management and poor judgment and should have to get City Council approval for its spending and rate increases. That would require a City Charter amendment.

The gist of Djou’s argument:

The Honolulu Board of Water Supply is out of control. Over the past several years, BWS has had problems with overpaying management, vague workplace rules and lax fiscal standards. Now BWS seeks a rate increase totaling 70 percent over five years.

The time has come for the Honolulu City Council to re-examine the level of oversight it should be exercising over BWS operations. Currently, the mayor appoints and the City Council confirms the members of the board. Unfortunately, the mayor and Council have failed to hold the board accountable or carefully scrutinize its spending habits.

Today, BWS is asking the public to stomach a whopping 70 percent increase in water rates. If any other public body, whether it be the U.S. Congress, the Legislature or the City Council, were to seek a 70 percent increase in taxes, the response by the public at the polls would be swift and clear.

If BWS actually needs a 70 percent increase for repairing and maintaining our water system, the Council needs to call BWS management on the carpet to ask how and why maintenance was neglected for so long and matters were allowed to fall into such a terrible state of disrepair. If the 70 percent is not needed, and BWS is only asking for a financial cushion for prospective future work, the Council needs to ask management why it thinks this rate increase is a good idea to foist upon local families in the middle of a recession. In either case, this is a clear sign of poor management at BWS.

Because it’s not part of the annual council budget debate, the BWS has enjoyed a fair amount of invisibility in its operations.

But the proposed 70 percent water rate increase in recessionary times has gotten the public’s attention, as has the board’s plan to add to the sting by billing monthly instead of bi-monthly.

I’m not yet convinced there’s a case for a total overhaul, but at the very least the BWS owes us a better explanation of why it needs such a huge increase beyond generalities about maintaining aging infrastructure.

It’s transparency we must insist on because of precedent it sets for HART.

HART saves the fight for another day

July 5, 2011

Members of the new Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation were smart to sidestep a lawsuit over who sets its budget, but it remains to be seen if the matter is settled or just postponed for a year.

The City Council insists it has the right under the City Charter to approve HART’s annual budget, while the Carlisle administration argues that the semi-autonomous agency sets it’s own budget independently of the council.

At its first meeting Friday, the HART board avoided a confrontation by adopting exactly the $20.5 million operating budget and $354.7 million capital budget passed by the council.

“Legal action is clearly not in the best interest of the taxpayers,” said HART finance chairman Don Horner, in a sentiment that surely reflects the public mood on this contentious $5.3 billion project. “We’re confident the majority of the council want to see rail move forward and there’s no sense in arguing about technicalities at this point.”

Of course, the operative words were “at this point.” We’ll see next year whether HART submits its budget to the council for approval — or what the board does if the council adopts its own budget for the agency.

Horner pledged somewhat vaguely to “provide oversight” to both the council and city administration on finances and “to engage the public in the budgetary process.”

It’ll be an interesting tap dance — especially with the always combative Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi back in charge of the Budget Committee.

But now was not the right time for a fight the mayor and council seemed to be champing at the bit for, and the HART board deserves early kudos for recognizing it.

Mayor, council heading to court on rail

June 22, 2011

Mayor Peter Carlisle and the City Council appear headed to court in a battle over fiscal control of O‘ahu’s $5.3 billion rail project.

Carlisle yesterday vetoed the $17.5 budget the council passed for 2012 operations of the new Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transit, arguing that the City Charter amendment creating HART gives the semi-autonomous agency the right to set its own budget.

The council, which passed the budget 8-1, is expected to override the veto, leaving the courts to resolve the dispute if the two sides can’t come to an agreement.

Council members have expressed frustration at what they describe as a heavy-handed attempt by the administration to cut them out of rail funding decisions, which they say was never the intent of the charter amendment.

The council may have already misplayed its best leverage to negotiate concessions from the administration on control of rail.

One area where the council clearly holds the power is in the approval of bonds to pay for the project.

Six council votes are needed for bonds to be floated, and when Carlisle last month requested approval for $104 million in rail bonds that won’t actually be needed until September 2012, the council rolled over and gave 6-3 approval despite the fact that at least half of the members voting “aye” had expressed serious concern about the administration’s heavy-handedness on rail.

The better play if they were worried about rail funding would have been to withhold approval of the bonds until the administration gave ground on the project’s financial transparency.

Shakeup could toughen up City Council

June 16, 2011

There’s not much to do except shake our heads at the abrupt leadership change at the City Council until what seems best described as a semi-friendly coup fully plays out with the appointment of committee chairs.

Council Chairman Nestor Garcia announced he was stepping down after only six months as the council’s leader and handing over the reins to Budget Chairman Ernie Martin.

Garcia said the shift was voluntary, but he seemed to be keeping one step ahead of the sheriff amid reports that a majority of his colleagues were unhappy with his leadership that has been uninspired and compromised by his nearly six-figure outside income from pro-rail interests.

Garcia and Councilman Breene Harimoto, the other apparent target of the reorganization, were criticized for their handling of the council’s three appointees to the new rail authority, with other members feeling they didn’t get fair input in the selections.

Martin is one of five freshmen members of the council, but he’s a city hall veteran with 20 years of experience in community services — including a stint as acting director of the department. He displayed a steady hand in leading the inexperienced council through this year’s challenging budget process.

He and Councilman Ikaika Anderson, who will replace Harimoto as vice chairman if the council approves the reorganization next month, have favored taking a tougher stance with the Carlisle administration than Garcia and Harimoto have advocated in monitoring the $5.3 rail project.

Fasten your seatbelts.

Kapiolani parking raises hackles

June 3, 2011

Freshman Councilman Stanley Chang is in hot water with some of his Waikiki constituents for being slow to react to the Carlisle administration’s proposal to substantially raise parking rates around Kapiolani Park.

The administration is seeking to collect $2 million a year for park maintenance by raising meter rates around Kapiolani and Aala parks from 50 cents an hour to $1 and requiring that the meters be fed 24/7 instead of just during daytime. The higher fees would presumably be extended in the future to other parks such as Ala Moana.

The increases drew some opposition from Oahu residents who use the park and nearby beach as a place to enjoy relatively inexpensive time with friends and families.

But most of the outrage came from residents of the condos that surround Kapiolani Park, who have few other places to park.

The higher rates — and especially extending them all night — could cost them hundreds of dollars a month, which they regard as an unfairly steep budget-balancing burden placed on only a few.

Chang threw in with the opponents and announced this week that he had persuaded his colleagues to recommit Bill 30 to committee at their meeting today, but the critics complain that he was uncommunicative until now and voted for the measure on the first two readings.

They aren’t convinced that Chang’s colleagues won’t throw the junior councilman under a bus and plan to show up at the meeting to apply pressure.

Chang’s handling of the matter seems less than deft and it’ll be interesting to see if it’s just inexperience or the beginning of a pattern.

Legislature should democratize itself before meddling in city elections

April 21, 2011

I’m inclined to agree with the Honolulu City Council’s unanimous resolution that the Legislature should butt out of the city’s electoral business and shelve a bill forcing “instant runoff” voting in municipal special elections.

Sponsoring lawmakers with backing from some civic groups say they’re worried that the winner-take-all elections to fill midterm vacancies usually draw large fields of candidates and produce winners who fall short of a majority.

HB 638 would require voters in city special elections to mark three ranked choices instead of voting for one candidate, and the candidates with the least votes would be eliminated until somebody ended up with a majority.

Council members say it’s a violation of home rule and other critics claim it’s a power play by the Democratic Party to give its candidates more bites at the apple after recent winner-take-all special elections were won by outsiders such as Congressman Charles Djou, Mayor Peter Carlisle and Councilman Tom Berg over the Democratic entries.

Whatever the motives, there’s no evidence of a serious problem that needs to be fixed; two of our last three presidents were elected with less than a majority in three-way races and Ben Cayetano was elected Hawai‘i governor that way.

The proposed Rube Goldberg system would add unnecessary complexities when it’s already difficult to get voters to participate in these elections and mark their ballots correctly.

If the Legislature wants to bring more democracy to replacing elected officials who leave office in midterm, it should worry first about reforming its own system on the state level.

Legislative vacancies aren’t filled by elections at all, but by party bosses putting up three candidates from which the governor must choose with no voter involvement.

A House-Senate conference committee is scheduled to markup the bill at 10:30 a.m. today in room 325.

Update: The conference was continued until Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. in room 325.

All tracks lead to Don Horner

April 18, 2011

I applauded when Gov. Neil Abercrombie appointed First Hawaiian Bank chairman and CEO Don Horner to the Board of Education.

He seemed just the kind of guy needed to help shake the school system out of its bureaucratic morass and establish a culture of clear goals and accountability.

I’m less enthusiastic about Mayor Peter Carlisle’s appointment of Horner to the new Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, which will oversee construction and operation of the city’s $5.5 billion rail project.

For one thing, Horner seems to be spreading himself a bit thin. The BOE, where he’s currently chairman, and the transit authority are both big jobs, and presumably, he’s still expected to pull a few shifts at the helm of FHB.

There’s also a concern about undue concentration of power. The public schools and rail are arguably the highest current priorities of the state and city, and it seems inappropriate to have one guy in the middle of both.

There are other banks and other CEO’s in this town if those credentials are deemed essential to these projects.

Carlisle said his three appointees to the transit authority “will keep politics out of the rail project,” but it’s difficult to see how.

In addition to Horner, he named outgoing corporation counsel Carrie Okinaga and William “Buzzy” Hong, retired executive director of the Hawaii Building and Construction Trades Council.

Okinaga has been in the middle of the political fight between the administration and City Council about fiscal oversight of the transit authority, and Hong’s group was a leader in the political battle to win approval of rail.

The City Council has appointed attorney and former city finance director Ivan Lui-Kwan, planner Kelsie Hui and Damien Kim of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

The city and state transportation directors are also members, and those eight will choose the ninth member.


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