It sounded like a great idea: A fact-finding mission to scope out other cities’ experiences with the likely recipient of a $1.1 billion rail contract in Honolulu. City Council members were aware that other areas had reported negatively about the city’s chosen contractor, Ansaldo, and they planned a trip to ask questions about what happened in those places.

But the report Honolulu City Council members finally filed on Monday — seven weeks after they returned from Copenhagen, Los Angeles and San Francisco — suggests that they buckled under pressure from city lawyers. Breene Harimoto and Ernie Martin said they were cautioned not to ask certain questions that might jeopardize the city’s procurement plans, especially now that two companies are protesting the city’s decision to select Ansaldo to design, build, operate and maintain Honolulu’s $5.3 billion rail line.

So instead of providing the public with specific questions and answers about Ansaldo’s record in other cities, the pair produced a fact-finding document that reads like a book report.

Take, for example, this observation:

“It’s not only how well you build a system that counts, but how well you operate and maintain it.”

Or the finding that it will be “important to work in partnership with Ansaldo and to facilitate timely communications to address issues.”

How about the remark that it might be prudent to purchase insurance to cover the shipping of train vehicles from Italy to Honolulu? Did Council members really need to travel halfway around the world to figure that one out?

Both City Council members told Civil Beat that the trip was worthwhile, and they were glad to have gone. But the report they produced does little to justify the cost to taxpayers.

By the way, we still don’t know how much they spent. Seven weeks and counting, Harimoto and Martin have yet to file their expense reports.

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