Posted tagged ‘HART’

Bunda a curious choice for transit authority

September 8, 2011

The plan of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation to appoint former state Sen. Robert Bunda as its final voting member is baffling.

Previous appointments to HART by Mayor Peter Carlisle and the City Council were politically connected people with zero experience running a commuter rail system.

No personal knock on Bunda, who was a decent legislator, but to fail to fill the void in transit expertise with the final appointment and instead name a veteran politician makes a mockery of the intended purpose of HART to take politics out of the running of the city’s $5.3 million rail project.

Making matters worse, the transit authority is refusing to reveal the names of the 16 applicants for the job so that the public can judge for itself whether Bunda was the most appropriate choice.

It seems that every time those overseeing rail have an opportunity to reassure the public that the project is being run on the up and up, they do the opposite.

It bodes ill for the most important appointment before the board — executive director — for which HART is supposedly undertaking a nationwide search to fill the vital post held on an interim basis by Toru Hamayasu.

HART will hear public testimony and make a final decision on the Bunda appointment Sept. 16.

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Rail car snag will show what HART is made of

August 3, 2011

I’d love to be a fly on the wall when the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation goes into executive session Thursday to discuss the city’s troubled $1.45 billion contract with Ansaldo Honolulu to provide and operate cars for the $5.3 billion rail system.

In two disturbing developments last week, the city admitted it made no reference calls to check Ansaldo’s spotty performance in other cities and Ansaldo’s parent company conceded the rail division has “structural problems” in producing rail cars for customers and may be sold if “urgent restructuring”  doesn’t solve financial and managerial problems.

The disarray involving a major contractor leaves unwelcome question marks hanging over the fledgling Honolulu rail project before construction is even started.

Further clouding the matter are challenges to the bidding process filed by two of Ansaldo’s competitors — Sumitomo and Bombardier — that could end up in court.

It’ll be the first test of what HART is made of; will the board deal forthrightly and independently with an unacceptable lapse of due diligence by the city, or will it join the city administration in putting a happy face on rail-related snags?

I have further thoughts on the rail car mess in my column in today’s Star-Advertiser, “City missteps cast doubt on direction of rail project.”

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.


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