WAILUKU, Maui, Hawaii – By a 5-3 vote, the Maui County Council today adopted Resolution 13-83, authorizing its Policy and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee to investigate the possible misuse of County funds relating to the demolition earlier this year of the Old Wailuku Post Office.
County Corporation Counsel Patrick Wong had stated that he can’t provide legal advice to the council on the matter because of conflict of interest. Councilmember Riki Hokama, chair of the committee, reminded the Council about the committee’s decision last month to first gather factual information in the form of an investigation, prior to considering hiring a special counsel to advise the Council.
Councilmember Hokama noted that multiple County officials apparently reviewed contracts authorizing the demolition of the Old Wailuku Post Office, whereas the budget appropriation called for the structure’s “rehabilitation.”
“It is our duty to ensure the protection and rights of our constituents should there be violations of law,” Councilmember Hokama said.
Councilmembers Stacy Crivello, Michael Victorino, Mike White and Elle Cochran joined Hokama in voting for the resolution, as recommended by the committee.
Councilmembers Don Couch, Robert Carroll and Gladys Baisa voted against the resolution.
Councilmember Don Guzman was excused from today’s meeting.
Councilmember Couch noted the potential expense to the Council arising from having one of its committees conduct the investigation. He said, “The potential misuse of funds is an auditor function, and we have recently appointed a County Auditor.”
Councilmember Mike White, who as budget chair first requested legal advice from the Corporation Counsel on the demolition, reminded the body that the County Auditor has autonomous power under the Charter, which means that neither the Council nor the Administration can dictate the office’s functions.
Councilmember White also offered an analogy to explain his continuing interest in an investigation, despite Mayor Alan Arakawa’s recent public statements on the matter.
Councilmember White’s full statement is available here.
“As with so many other County processes, just talking about what you would like to do and having it covered by the media is simply not adequate to secure approval to move forward with a project, ” Councilmember White said.
“Example: A member of the public has a County building permit to renovate their home. Instead, they want to demolish the house and build a much larger home.
“Can they do that without first submitting another permit application, providing new plans and waiting for approval? No.
“If the owner apologized and explains, ‘I talked to you about it several times, and you said you thought it was a great idea,’ would the permitting staff accept the explanation and give the owner a break? Not a chance.”
Councilmember Couch proposed inviting members of the Administration to the floor to answer questions. Mayor Alan Arakawa, Managing Director Keith Regan and Budget Director Sandy Baz were in the gallery for much of today’s meeting.
After discussion, Council Chair Baisa ruled against questioning the officials.
Councilmember Couch also moved to send the resolution back to committee for further vetting and clarification and, alternatively, to establish a deadline for the investigation. The motions failed.
Councilmember White said that the timeliness and efficiency of the investigation had to be based on “trust” in the committee chaired by Councilmember Hokama.
“I trust that the committee will do a fair job,” said Councilmember White. “Also as your Budget and Finance Committee chair, I am also concerned about our finances. However, I know that (the Council) has funds set aside for audits and litigation matters.”
In addition, Councilmember White said that “the protection of integrity (in County government) should be the focus and not the cost.”
Councilmember Crivello said she preferred the committee’s work to be regarded as more of an “inquiry” than an investigation. She also stated she doesn’t want the investigation “to take forever.”
Councilmember Hokama said his committee will present a schedule to Council members on the timeline of the investigation.
Councilmember Carroll expressed support of the fact-finding intent of the resolution, but said he couldn’t support the proposed investigation format.
Councilmember Victorino asserted the Council has done similar work in the past and can do it again.
“Some people think this is a joke between the Council and the Mayor; this is serious,” said Councilmember Victorino. “We just want to make sure that procedures are followed, and we (the County) are not above the law.”
Before the members voted, Council Chair Baisa took the opportunity to explain her position.
“I really would like this resolution to get one more review in committee in order to define what this investigation is all about,” she said.
Chair Baisa stressed her role as chair was to facilitate discussion, furthering majority rule, and not be an advocate.
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