After six months of volunteering for the rail transit board, Carrie Okinaga is going back to work.
Okinaga, who until July 1 was the city’s top attorney, told Civil Beat Thursday she starts her new day job on Tuesday — at First Hawaiian Bank. She’ll still moonlight as chair of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation board of directors.
First Hawaiian Bank, of course, is the home of Don Horner, another member of the HART board. First Hawaiian Bank is one of the largest landowners near the rail project. Civil Beat reported that First Hawaiian Bank owns 36 acres within half a mile of the rail line, placing it in the top 25.
Now, First Hawaiian has two of the main voices on the 10-member board.
Okinaga said Horner “definitely suggested” she look to work at FHB but didn’t pull strings on her behalf. She delayed her start date until after he retires from his position as First Hawaiian CEO, effective the end of this year, to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.
“This is a job. This is my real livelihood,” Okinaga said. “We’re trying to avoid (the appearance of a conflict of interest), obviously.”
Okinaga will serve as in-house counsel and will report to General Counsel Bill Atwater, not to Horner, who will continue to serve at the bank’s chairman.
Okinaga said she asked Honolulu Ethics Commission Executive Director Chuck Totto for guidance on whether the job would create an ethical problem and that he ruled in October that it would not.
Horner hosted a HART Finance Committee meeting earlier this year at the First Hawaiian Bank building because the city lacked facilities to hold a teleconference with Ansaldo and Finmeccanica executives spread across multiple Italian cities. Horner gave Ansaldo’s financials a thumbs up, and the company was contracted to design, build, operate and maintain the rail system for $1.4 billion.
First Hawaiian’s parent company, PNB Paribas, has ties to Finmeccanica, and Horner did not disclose the link at that meeting or any others. Blogger Ian Lind pointed out the connection in September.
As Corporation Counsel, Okinaga made nearly $120,000 annually. Her position on the HART board is nonpaying. She said providing for her family was a consideration when she chose the bank job over other possibilities.
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