Honolulu City Council members are moving to oust their chairman, Nestor Garcia, and replace him with council Budget Chairman Ernie Martin. Council member Ikaika Anderson would replace Breene Harimoto as vice chair.

A council reorganization can take place at any time, and would have to be outlined in a resolution approved by at least five of the nine council members. Staffers in the City Clerk’s office say they have not yet received such a resolution.

Garcia said he would have comments about the situation “later this afternoon,” but would not explicitly confirm his colleagues push to remove him. He just said, “You’re on to something today.”

City Council member Romy Cachola told Civil Beat Wednesday morning that neither Martin nor Anderson approached him, but that he’s aware of the move to reorganize.

“I have to see the resolution, and most likely I’ll support it,” Cachola said. “I don’t know why, with the timing. There is support for a reorganization.” Cachola said he hasn’t talked to Garcia about the situation.

Along with Martin and Anderson, the group supporting reorganization appears to be Cachola, Ann Kobayashi, Stanley Chang and Tulsi Gabbard. Of the six, only Kobayashi and Cachola could be reached Wednesday morning.

“It hasn’t happened yet, and I never want to say until something actually happens,” Kobayashi said. “Ernie did really well as budget chair, so I would support him in either role, chairman or budget chair. You know how reorgs go. It just kind of happens.”

The shake-up comes just seven months after the election and special election that brought five new City Council members into office. At the time, the newcomers — including Martin — stood behind Garcia as chair. Since then Garcia had to acknowledge that while on the council he had been paid by a group advocating rail without verbally disclosing the possible conflict in public hearings. The council is heading toward a legal battle with the administration of Mayor Peter Carlisle, and Martin has been a leader in pushing for litigation.

It’s unclear how committee leadership on the council would change as a result of a reorganization. Martin is already chair of the powerful Budget Committee, which oversaw the council’s handling of the city spending plans that passed June 3.

Current council leadership is as follows:

Committee Chair Vice Chair
Budget Ernie Martin Tulsi Gabbard
Exec. Matters & Legal Affairs Romy Cachola Breene Harimoto
Parks & Human Services Tom Berg Ikaika Anderson
Planning Ann Kobayashi Tom Berg
Public Works & Sustainability Stanley Chang Ann Kobayashi
Safety, Econ. Development & Govt. Affairs Tulsi Gabbard Stanley Chang
Transportation & Transit Planning Breene Harimoto Ernie Martin
Zoning Ikaika Anderson Romy Cachola
Committee of the Whole Nestor Garcia Breene Harimoto

The Honolulu City Council has had a track record of frequent leadership changes.

“Dime a dozen,” Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, a former City Council chairman, told Civil Beat. “You’re gonna have disagreements. Cannot help. As long as the members always have the best interest of the city, maybe it’s warranted. Maybe there’s an issue that needs to be resolved, and maybe there’s a stalemate. When it becomes a power-play, maybe that could be destructive, but you hope that people are going to reorganize because they want the body to become more functional or they want to be sure an agenda gets accomplished.”

City Council member Tom Berg told Civil Beat Wednesday morning that he is not involved with “the coup, if there is to be a coup,” but says he welcomes the opportunity for reorganization so that he might become a voting member of the Transportation Committee (the council organized in November, before Berg was elected in a December special election).

“When they reorganized after the November election, they had all got what their wants were, engorged themselves at the table, while the Distrcit 1 seats got scraps,” Berg said. “So I have always been disgruntled, wanting to fight for, represent, Distrct 1’s transportation needs.”

City Council member Chang is traveling in China with Carlisle. An aide to Chang said he’s “sure council member Chang is aware of it,” but would not characterize Chang’s position.

Council member Gabbard is also out of town and could not be reached.

Council member Harimoto declined to speak publicly about the issue.

DISCUSSION: *What do you think about how the City Council has operated under the leadership of Chairman Nestor Garcia? Share your thoughts about whether it’s time for a change in leadership in our Honolulu City Government discussion.

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