City Council members are taking up a slew of money-related measures in committee meetings this week. Expect to hear debate over funding for rail, the new transit agency’s budget and more.

We’ll also find out how Honolulu officials plan to cope with a cap on TAT revenue, which both Mayor Peter Carlisle and council Chairman Nestor Garcia warned would hurt the city’s ability to balance its budget. Civil Beat is reporting from the inside.

Council Advances HART Budget, Rail Bond Float

5:30 p.m.

City Council members advanced Bill 40, which authorizes the city to float bonds for rail.

The council also advanced two bills outlining the operating and capital budgets for a new rapid transit agency.

All three measures face further discussion, votes and public hearings before they can be passed.

Council Advances Nomination of HART Candidate Who Skips Meeting

4:26 p.m.
Members of the City Council’s Transportation committee advanced three nominations for board members of a new transit agency, even though one of them didn’t appear to be publicly questions.

City Council member Breene Harimoto said Keslie Hui is off-island and “sends his regrets” about missing discussion of his nomination.

“I look at his credentials and bio and they’re very good,” said City Council member Romy Cachola.

“I’ve met with Keslie Hui and I was very impressed with him also,” City Council member Ann Kobayashi said.

The other two City Council nominees, Damien Kim and Ivan Lui-Kwan fielded a long and specific series of questions about their possible leadership in today’s meeting before their nominations were moved forward.

Kobayashi ‘Very Disappointed’ in Nomination Process

4:16 p.m.
City Council member Ann Kobayashi expressed concerns about the process by which the City Council selected and announced its nominees for HART.

“I was very disappointed in the whole process,” Kobayashi said. “Usually there are hearings, and we get to discuss all this, then there’s a vote, then there’s a press conference. But in this case it was the opposite. There was a press conference… They had never come before us.”

Kobayashi said if it was up to her, she “probably would have selected the same people.” (For the record, the nominee she submitted to Harimoto did not make the final cut.)

Transportation Chairman Breene Harimoto and City Council Chairman Nestor Garcia made the picks, and Harimoto defended the process.

“My observation of past practice was that resolutions came before the council with a blank rather than with a name, and in the spirit of being open I chose to have this process with the names before us.”

Kobayashi’s response: “That would have been fine, but just to hold a press conference first, is what I’m saying. It made it a bit awkward. To say these are the nominees, and then we have the hearings?”

Harimoto said it was done that way to show unity between the mayor’s picks and the City Council’s possible picks.

City Council members Ikaika Anderson, Tom Berg and Romy Cachola echoed Kobayashi’s concerns, but Cachola said he was “willing to forget” them in the interest of moving forward.

HART Nominees On Possible Lack of Federal Rail Money

4:07 p.m.
City Council member Ann Kobayashi asked the City Council’s HART nominees what they would do if federal money for rail doesn’t come through as planned. Here’s how they answered:

Ivan Lui-Kwan: “Clearly, if you don’t have funds, you can’t do the project. If the funds are not there, clearly the project cannot proceed. This is clearly a matter that would be brought to the mayor and to the City Council for consideration. Speaking for myself — I can’t speak for the board — I would think this is a significant enough issue that it should involved the authorities: the City Council and the mayor.

Damien Kim: “That, I agree on. Something as significant as that would require actions of everyone involved, including taxpayers as well.”

Chang Proposes Ground Rules for HART Nominees

3:38 p.m.
City Council member Stanley Chang asked HART nominees Ivan Lui-Kwan and Damien Kim about possible ground rules for selecting a fellow board member.

Chang asked if they would be willing to exclude nominees who are recent city employees or consultants, and whether they would investigate candidates’ backgrounds and exclude those who are found to have any perceived conflicts of interest. Chang said such conditions may be necessary to restore the “greatly shaken” public trust on rail.

Both Kim and Lui-Kwan said they understand Chang’s concerns, but believe agreeing to such conditions would be premature.

“The real value among the 10 members of the authority board is to have a fair, open, frank and thoughtful discussion where we share ideas, share information, share analysis and together come up with what we believe is the best solution,” Lui-Kwan said.

For example: Lui-Kwan says Carrie Okinaga — the top city lawyer who is joining the HART board almost immediately after leaving her position in June — would be flagged as having a potential conflict of interest under Chang’s proposed rules.

Okinaga was named to the board by the mayor, and her appointment is not subject to council approval.

Cachola Irked That No Filipinos Appointed to HART Board

3:15 p.m.
City Council members are discussing Resolution 11-115, which would advance City Council leadership’s nominations of Ivan Lui-Kwan, Damien Kim and Keslie Hui to a new transit agency’s board.

“I just want to let you know that I’ve been getting a lot of calls from the Filipino community, and they’re very disappointed that no Filipino person was given a chance to be a member,” City Council member Romy Cachola said.

Lui-Kwan said he understood Cachola’s desire for a balance of “geographic diversity,” and said his input is “well-taken.”

A former city budget director, Lui-Kwan called HART an “awesome responsibility” that he was “honored” to have the opportunity to assume.

Kim’s response: “Ditto what he said… We are here to be open to any candidate who wants to put his name in.”

City Council member Breene Harimoto said Keslie Hui is off-island and “sends his regrets” about missing discussion of his nomination.

Berg Accuses Mayor of “Cronyism”

2:44 p.m.
City Council member Tom Berg is criticizing Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle‘s nominees to the board of a new transit agency, calling them unqualified “yes men.” Berg’s nomination — vocal rail critic Panos Prevedouros — was not advanced by City Council leadership.

Berg issued a statement blasting both Carlisle and the City Council for their nominees. The Transportation Committee is set to take up Resolution 11-115, which would advance the City Council’s three picks for boardmembers of a new transit agency. The mayor’s three picks aren’t subject to council approval.

“Unless you believe that hiring a plumber to fix your DVD recorder is a smart idea, then you already know that these people who have been nominated are anything but highly qualified,” Berg wrote. “There is not one single transportation expert, not one single transit expert, not one person who has ever been a recognized leader in the field.”

The mayor’s picks are:

  1. First Hawaiian Bank CEO and Chairman Don Horner, who also chairs the state Board of Education and sits on several other boards.
  2. Retired Building and Construction Trades Council Executive Director William “Buzzy” Hong
  3. Outgoing Honolulu Corporation Counsel Carrie Okinaga

“To call these people highly qualified defies any and all logic, unless you like the sleazy way that our city and state government operate,” Berg wrote. “We’re already paying six figure salaries to rail project publicists and propagandists who work out of a fancy office on Alakea Street. Who is going to oversee these people? Does the story of the fox and the hen house have any meaning anymore?”

The council’s picks — as selected by Chairman Nestor Garcia and Vice Chair Breene Harimoto from a pool of nine candidates — are:

  1. Keslie Hui, development manager for Forest City Enterprises with experience in strategic planning and construction
  2. Damien Kim, the business manager and financial secretary of the local International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers chapter
  3. Ivan Lui-Kwan, an attorney and former Honolulu Budget and Fiscal Services director

Twitter, Facebook Available on City Wi-Fi Again

2:11 p.m.
That didn’t take long. Just about half an hour passed before previously-blocked social networking sites are back up and running on the city’s network.

City Wi-Fi Blocks Twitter, Facebook

1:38 p.m.

In a recess between two morning committee meetings, Inside Honolulu tried logging onto Twitter via the city’s Wi-Fi.

Turns out, the website is blocked. The reason? The site was categorized as “social networking, blogs.” Here’s a screenshot of the message that popped up on our screen:

We’ve asked Information Technology Director Gordon Bruce before about which sites the city blocks. He said the city uses software that picks what not to allow.

But we have to wonder about what this means for the city’s stated goal of improving its online communication, especially given that Facebook is also blocked.

Just last week, we wrote about the city’s new facebook page. For now at least, you can’t use the city’s WiFi to get there.

Council Members Struggle Over Bond Authorization for Rail

1:31 p.m.

Council members have been trying to understand the implications of passing Bill 40, which would authorize the city to float bonds related to the rail project.

At issue is whether authorizing the bill would be the first of a two-step process that would allow the council to stop the bond float before it happens. Council members have raised concerns about borrowing money to pay for the costly early stages of the project before the federal government guarantees it will chip in $1.55 billion.

A city lawyer and members of the Carlisle administration have said the council would be presented with another resolution to finalize the bond float, but it’s unclear what the implications of passing or not passing that future resolution would be.

“Is that only for authorization to phase in installments of the bond sale, or is it a time where — if you oppose the bond sale — you can oppose it?” asked City Council member Ann Kobayashi.

Deputy Corporation Counsel Diane Kawauchi seemed to suggest that if City Council members pass Bill 40, they may be in a position that makes it very difficult for them to reject the resolution that comes later.

“What you hear the DTS (Transportation Services Department) testifiers say is they have begun to encumber the monies that have been appropriated,” Kawauchi said. “They will come back for the bond authorization when they need the cash in hand.”

Kawauchi repeatedly reiterated that those with concerns about floating the bonds later, should consider rejecting Bill 40 today.

“If the intention of the council is never to approve the resolution, then my recommendation would be that you should not be enacting the ordinance,” Kawauchi said.

The City Council on Monday rejected two other bills related to floating bonds.

Budget Chairman Ernie Martin opted to recess his Budget Committee meeting, which already ran into time allotted for a Transportation and Transit Planning Committee meeting. The Budget Committee will revisit the issue after the Transportation and Transit Services Committee is adjourned.

Mayor Would Likely Support End to Recycling Subsidy

12:35 p.m.
In earlier discussion, City Council member Ann Kobayashi said she heard the mayor say he supported the current tipping-fee discount for recycling companies. Honolulu scrap yard Schnitzer Steel saved $1.9 million through the city subsidy last year.

“I know the present mayor has said that he would oppose any kind of change to the recycling discount,” Kobayashi said. “He said that he supports the present discount.”

But a spokeswoman for the mayor painted a different picture of the mayor’s position, without specifically saying whether he would support legislation before the council.

“The issue of an elimination or reduction of a discount on tipping fees is consistent with the mayor’s position on efficiency and cost-savings,” Louise Kim McCoy told Civil Beat.

Council Takes Up HART Budget Without Mayor’s Approval

11:53 a.m.

Honolulu City Council member Ernie Martin said his Budget Committee is taking up a new rail agency’s proposed budget, even though Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle‘s administration tried to remove the City Council from the process.

Carlisle said he left the spending plan for the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transit out of his proposed budget because HART was intended to be a semi-autonomous agency. City Council members argued that the charter amendment that voters passed to approve HART’s creation explicitly stated the council would have oversight of the agency’s spending.

“If not for the fact that the council moved forward and authored these bills, you would not have the right to testify,” Martin said. “This is the council’s prerogative.”

The new transit agency’s capital $355 million capital budget is outlined in Bill 34. Its $18 million operating budget is outlined in Bill 33.

Read more about the dispute over HART between the City Council and the administration.

Council Advances Bill to Seek Rail Reimbursement

11:38 a.m.
City Council members advanced a measure that seeks to recoup money from the city’s transit fund that was spent on rail before the transit fund was established.

Bill 35 faces further City Council discussion and at least one more public hearing before council members will decide whether to pass it.

Council Members Seek Reimbursement of Money Spent on Rail

11:01 a.m.

City Council members are discussing whether the city’s general fund and highway fund should be reimbursed for millions of dollars spent on the Honolulu rail project.

Bill 35 requests the city use money from the transit fund to pay back the general fund for money spent before the transit fund was established in 2007. Transit fund monies come from a 0.5 percent GET surcharge.

Transportation Services Director Wayne Yoshioka said he is not certain whether reimbursement is possible.

“We’d like to work with council on this, and we’re trying to clarify some of the things we’re not sure of yet,” Yoshioka said.

He said the department will “strongly consider” the reimbursement if it’s legally possible, and says the department is “leaning in that direction.” The ultimate decision will be up to the mayor, Yoshioka said.

Managing Director Doug Chin said he wants to be sure city lawyers are involved in what could be a precedent-setting decision about city finances.

“We’re open to it,” Chin said. “On one hand, what we’re talking about is revenue that could be going into the Highway Fund and that would be something for the council to rightfully to look at. On the other hand, I think there are some concerns… I think we’re looking at what kind of precedent this is setting as far as asking for monies to be reimbursed from the past.”

The exact amount of possible reimbursement is not yet determined.

10:34 a.m.

The Honolulu Budget Committee advanced two bills aimed at reducing a subsidy to recycling companies. Bill 37 and Bill 36 are still several steps away from final approval.

Earlier this week, the council’s Public Works and Sustainability Committee advanced Bill 47, which would eliminate the subsidy.

Under current law, some recycling companies get an 80 percent discount when they dispose of non-recyclable materials in the city landfill. The discount saved recycling companies a total of about $2.1 million last year. Scrap yard Schnitzer Steel benefits the most, and saved $1.9 million through the subsidy last year.

City Council member Romy Cachola said the company is hurting itself by refusing to show financial records, which would demonstrate a need for continued financial assistance from the government.

“You’re not helping yourself because you’re hiding yourself to a point that you’re not being upfront with us,” Cachola said. “I just want to let you know that in a public hearing like this, the more upfront you are, the better for you folks.”

Read more about the subsidy and who benefits from it.

Apologies All Around in Budget Meeting

10:08 a.m.
A man who was called “stupid” by City Council member Romy Cachola earlier this week returned to testify before the City Council this morning.

In a heated Public Works and Sustainability Committee meeting Monday, City Council member Ann Kobayashi yelled at Edgar Miner for questioning her integrity. City Council member Romy Cachola then came to Kobayashi’s defense, and called Miner “stupid.” Kobayashi later told Civil Beat she felt Miner had attacked her.

Miner, who had asked Kobayashi if she had a “vested interest” in Schnitzer Steel during discussion of a bill that would end a subsidy that benefits the company, said he regretted offending her.

“After mispeaking so poorly, I wanted to apologize to council member Kobayashi,” Miner said in testimony to the Budget Committee. “I wanted to say that I am not in support of these two bills.”

Council members were impressed by Miner’s words.

“I respect you for coming forward and personally extending your apologies,” Budget Chairman Ernie Martin said.

“I just want to thank you Mr. Miner,” Kobayashi said. “I apologize to you, too, if I spoke heatedly.”

Cachola began by commending Miner for his courage. As he often does, Cachola also drew some laughs with his comments.

“I know I said some nasty words to you but, you know what, that’s how it goes,” Cachola said. “You learn from your mistakes, hopefully… When I said you’re acting stupid, you did. But I will take that back because you are a man to apologize.”

City Council member Stanley Chang said he hoped the goodwill would help “usher in a new era of civility, decorum, decency and mutual respect here at the council.”

Schnitzer Steel says a Reduction to Subsidy Would Drive Less Waste to Landfill

9:36 a.m.
The Budget Committee is discussing two measures that would reduce a tipping-fee discount for recycling companies. If passed, the bills would mean recycling companies would save less money when disposing of non-recyclable material in the landfill.

It comes after the Public Works Committee earlier this week advanced another measure that would eliminate the discount all together.

The company that benefits most from the discount is Schnitzer Steel.

Schnitzer spokeswoman Jennifer Hudson told the committee that the company would support Bill 36, which would reduce the discount from 80 percent to 60 percent.

She said the company is against Bill 37 and Bill 47. Department of Environmental Services Director Tim Steinberger said, if passed, Bill 47 would generate about $2.6 million more for the city’s Solid Waste Fund per year.

If those measures passed, Hudson said Schnitzer Steel would have to find ways to send less non-recyclable waste to the landfill. Hudson appeared to be trying to make the point that the city might not stand to increase its revenue from tipping fees, but City Council member Breene Harimoto focused on the environmental implications.

“You should be doing that anyway, right?” Harimoto asked.

Hudson first stumbled over her response before saying: “At this point, we are looking at improving our technology to take more of the recyclable materials out of the shredder residue.”

Council Advances O’Donnell Nomination

9:16 a.m.
Longtime Ironworkers’ union representative Joe O’Donnell says he’s “humbled” by Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle‘s decision to nominate him to serve on the Liquor Commission. O’Donnell told the City Council Budget Committee meeting this morning that he wants to reduce underage drinking and help prevent alcohol-related “acts of violence.”

“I feel that we’re losing far too many of our youth to alcohol-related tragedies and accidents,” O’Donnell.

City Council member Tulsi Gabbard said she was pleased to hear that his priorities related to the safety of the community. City Council member Ann Kobayashi also spoke highly of O’Donnell.

“I’ve known Mr. O’Donnell for many years, and he’s done a lot in the community,” Kobayashi said. “I think he’ll be a great asset to the Liquor Commission.”

Budget Committee members advanced that nomination. O’Donnell’s nomination now goes to the full City Council for a vote.

Check out O’Donnell’s resume, which is included in his nomination papers.

Another Busy Day at Honolulu Hale

City Council members wrap up a series of committee meetings with the Budget and Transportation and Transit Planning committees today. They’ll discuss everything from recycling subsidies to a new rail agency budget.

Read Previous Editions of Inside Honolulu

May 3, 2011: Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle signed into law new North Shore plan; City Planning and Permitting Director David Tanoue questions move to turn shipping containers into homes; Environmental group raises concerns about trees along rail route.

May 2, 2011: City Council member Stanley Chang takes on managing director; Ann Kobayashi defends yelling at testifier; Romy Cachola calls testifier “stupid;” Tom Berg proposes horse racetrack for Kapiolani Park; Bill to eliminate scrap yard subsidy advances; Council member miffed that rail leaders skipped special council meeting.

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