It has been more than six weeks since Honolulu City Council members Breene Harimoto and Ernie Martin returned from a fact-finding rail trip to California and Copenhagen, Denmark.
Yet they still have not finished a report detailing their findings, and they haven’t submitted their expenses from the taxpayer-funded trip.
The council members have repeatedly pushed back their planned release of a report about the trip amid pressure to stay quiet given rail-related protests that are under way.
Both Martin and Harimoto have told Civil Beat that city lawyers warned them about the trip, which Harimoto pitched as a way to learn from cities that have done business with Italian rail manufacturer Ansaldo. The trip was planned after Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle announced in March that the city wanted to award to Ansaldo a $1.1 billion contract to design, build, operate and maintain the city’s $5.3 billion rail plan.
Other cities have reported a wide range of problems with the company.
On April 24, Harimoto and Martin traveled to San Francisco with two council aides. Martin and an aide then went on to Los Angeles, while Harimoto and an aide traveled to Copenhagen. When they returned to Honolulu — Harimoto returned on May 2, while Martin returned in late April — both said they had been cautioned by city lawyers not to ask certain questions of officials in other cities, or to say too much about the trip when they returned.
“You understand that the process is under protest right now,” Martin told Civil Beat in April. “We were cautioned to be very careful in terms of the types of questions we could ask.”
Harimoto echoed his colleague.
“When we decided to go, our intention was to come back and share our assessment, but then the protest occurred,” Harimoto told Civil Beat last month. “The attorneys made it clear that we probably would be called as witnesses in any dispute if we said or wrote certain kinds of things. I don’t want to spend endless weeks or months in court.”
But both men promised that they would finalize a report about the rail trip for the public to inspect.
On May 11, Harimoto said he hoped to have the report finished by May 13. A week later, he told Civil Beat that he and Martin were “still working” on it.
On May 24, Civil Beat received this message in an email from Harimoto: “We are still really swamped with budget and other pressing issues. We have a rough draft of our report, but it still needs much work… At this point, I plan to concentrate on finalizing our report right after we approve the budget on June 3rd.”
On June 6, Harimoto wrote: “Our trip report is high on my priority list this week… I’m targeting the end of the week to submit our report, but we’ll see how it goes.”
On June 10: “I’ve fallen behind on completing our report because I’ve been out sick all week… Our report is almost complete so I should get it finalized next week.”
Since his April 29 interview with Civil Beat, Martin has not responded to any of our email inquiries about the status of the report. An aide in his office last week said the finishing touches were being put on it.
Honolulu Budget and Fiscal Services Director Michael Hansen was out of the office Monday, and could not be reached to answer questions about the status of the protests. City spokespeople could not be reached about the protests before publication of this story.
Last month — after Harimoto had already returned from Denmark — a Danish news service reported that the company that runs the national rail carrier in that country is trying to break its contract with Ansaldo.
An aide for City Council Chairman Nestor Garcia, whose office keeps track of the expenses council members submit for reimbursement, told Civil Beat on Monday that she hasn’t received anything from Martin or Harimoto related to their trip.
An aide in Harimoto’s office told Civil Beat that the report is now “really close,” and that he hopes — but can’t be certain — that it will be submitted this week. The clock is ticking: a new semi-autonomous agency formally takes control of the rail project on July 1.
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