The clash between two Honolulu City Council freshmen has escalated into a public confrontation that has forced the Council chair to referee.
The problems ramped up at a Transportation Committee meeting on Nov. 17 when Breene Harimoto became irritated at Tom Berg over Berg’s insistence on straying off topic.
Now, the animosity between the two has led Harimoto to demand that Berg’s voting rights be revoked until he gets his act together.
The Transportation Committee agenda that Thursday afternoon contained three items: a federal grant application for mobility programs; a “complete streets” ordinance that would make Oahu’s roads more pedestrian- and bike-friendly; and a Joint Traffic Management Center.
Berg was fired up, and he used those items to pivot to some of his pet issues, namely the Honolulu rail project and the Leeward Bikeway. Some of the segues were tenuous, but Berg rambled, ranted and raved, as he frequently does.
The frustration was painted all over Committee Chair Harimoto’s face.
He pleaded with Berg to stay on track, citing the Sunshine Law’s requirement that all discussion items be on the agenda. Exasperated, he looked to his colleagues for guidance. He repeatedly threatened, gavel poised, to recess the meeting.
In the weeks since that meeting, the public has learned that Berg’s combative day continued that night at the Waipahu Neighborhood Board meeting, where the police were called. On Wednesday, seemingly every media outlet in Hawaii reported that police had been called a few days before the meeting when Berg, reeking of alcohol, was arguing with Secret Service agents at APEC.
Now we’ve also learned that Harimoto’s frustrations with Berg haven’t subsided. In a letter sent to Council Chair Ernie Martin, Harimoto described those events and others and requested that Berg be removed as a voting member of all Council committees.
“I ask that you take this action to impress upon him the seriousness of the situation and to give the public some assurance that the Council does not condone such behavior,” Harimoto wrote to Martin on Nov. 23.
Read the full letter, as well as Harimoto’s Nov. 22 letter to the Honolulu Neighborhood Commission in which he raised similar concerns:
Martin shot down Harimoto’s request, saying it would unfairly punish Berg’s constituents. His staff provided the following written statement to Civil Beat:
“I understand the concerns raised by Councilmember Tom Berg’s recent behavior in public. I have reviewed the complaints against him and strongly cautioned him to be more mindful and respectful of all audiences. But to reprimand Councilman Berg in the manner that is being suggested would deprive the residents of District 1 of representation on the City Council. There are a number of legislative issues of critical importance to his community and I believe his constituents are entitled to a voice in the decision making.”
On Wednesday, when he was asked about the police report alleging the disagreement with the Secret Service, Berg said Harimoto “is looking to squash and muzzle me.”
“This is a character assassination by Breene Harimoto. He’s very upset that I’m trying to discuss the rail. There are superior products, a quieter system, a better system,” Berg said. “My efforts at the City Council have irritated Breene Harimoto, and he’s fishing for anything he can.”
Harimoto denied that allegation Wednesday.
“I assure you there’s no vendetta, it has nothing to do with rail,” he told Civil Beat. “This is not about Councilmember Berg’s view on rail. It’s not about his passion. It’s not about punishing him. It’s really about his behavior.
“When it gets to the point where people are saying they’re afraid, they’re scared, they feel threatened, I believe the Council has a legal and moral obligation to do something,” Harimoto told Civil Beat Wednesday. “I don’t believe we can just turn the other way.”
Harimoto also denied having anything to do with the police report. His Nov. 23 letter to Martin might have drawn other media outlets’ attention to the incident. Civil Beat learned of its existence from other sources.
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