One of the appointed members of the board overseeing rail transit works for a firm that manages land for the biggest landowner along the 20-mile line.
The appointee, Keslie Hui, says it’s not a conflict, but the link raises questions. Breene Harimoto, chair of the Honolulu City Council‘s Transportation Committee, didn’t know about the land holdings when he appointed Hui, but told Civil Beat he “would certainly have concerns” if that were the case.
Civil Beat revealed last week the companies and governmental agencies that own most of the land within walking distance of the proposed rail line. At the top of the list — with more than 1,000 acres near the route — was Ohana Military Communities LLC, the local land ownership arm of Forest City, a national residential management company for the military that handles off-base housing for the Marines and Navy in Hawaii.
Hui said the community in question is Kamakana Villages on the Kona side of the Big Island, and said he doesn’t work at all with the military side of Forest City’s operation on Oahu.
On top of that, he said his company has little control over its partnership with the military.
“There’s very little influence that we have in our partnership. It’s pretty much the Navy that decides what to do on that property,” he told Civil Beat. “We deliver the housing on the properties, but it’s the Navy that dictates what happens with the lands. … We keep the streets clean and keep the residents happy.”
Hui also said “the vast majority of the reconstruction of those neighborhoods is completed” and there’s no further development agreement between the Navy and Forest City beyond what’s already done.
Still, having Hui on the HART board could give the Navy, Ohana Military Communities or Forest City a backdoor channel to express their desires and affect rail management decisions.
Section 11-102 of the Revised Charter of Honolulu, which covers conflicts of interest, states that city officials shouldn’t do any business or have any financial interests that “may tend to impair the independence of judgment in the performance of such person’s official duties.”
While Hui said he doesn’t believe there’s a conflict of interest, he did ask his company for permission before accepting the appointment because “obviously the land holdings are significant.”
“They gave me a green light to go ahead and serve the community because it’s important, and that’s pretty much all the direction I got,” he said.
Harimoto told Civil Beat Friday that he didn’t know about Ohana Military Communities’ major land holdings near the rail line when the council was making decisions about whom to appoint, and that while he “may have concerns,” it’s now “after the fact.”
“In the process of talking to the nominees before we decided, that was one of my questions to make sure that there’s no conflict of interest and no appearance of a conflict of interest,” Harimoto said. “At the time, when (Hui) assured me that there was not a conflict of interest, I was not aware of the land holdings, so I took it at face value.”
Harimoto said that he was aware of Civil Beat’s report about the major land owners and “certainly would have concerns if that were true.”
“I don’t have any facts of the matter, so I think it would be premature for me to comment on it,” he said.
It’s not currently clear which member of the City Council nominated Hui.
Civil Beat reported in April that Ernie Martin nominated International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers’ local business manager Damien Kim, and that Tulsi Gabbard nominated Ivan Lui-Kwan, who was the city’s budget director under former Mayor Jeremy Harris.