Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell refused to sign off on several budget bills Monday, saying he had too many problems with City Council meddling.

Caldwell also didn’t sign the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation’s operating and capital budgets for similar reasons.

It was a largely symbolic gesture, because the bills will pass into law without his signatures. But the maneuver gave Caldwell a platform to criticize the City Council, particularly its chairman, Ernie Martin, who many observers believe will run for mayor in 2016.

City Council Chairman Ernie Martin speaks with Mayor Caldwell before Gov. Abercrombie news conference on April 17, 2014

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, right, and City Council Chairman Ernie Martin are butting heads over the budget, which could be a preview of the 2016 election.

PF Bentley/Civil Beat

Caldwell said he was particularly disappointed that the City Council didn’t include $616,488 in the $2.2 billion operating budget to pay for his recently created Office of Strategic Development.

The office is supposed to help execute the mayor’s homelessness and affordable housing agenda. Most recently it developed a plan to build a homeless encampment out of shipping containers at a vacant lot on Sand Island to house 75 to 100 people.

Caldwell wrote in a June 22 letter to council members that he “will not be discouraged” by their “failure” to fund the positions, and will instead shift money around to maintain the Office of Strategic Development staffers already on hand.

The mayor took several swipes at Martin on Monday. In a press release, Caldwell highlighted that since Martin took office in 2011 he added six new positions to the council staff for a total cost of nearly $1 million. Three of those positions, including a housing coordinator and someone to help with rail oversight, were included in the upcoming budget.

Caldwell also went after Martin for nominating his former staffer, Kimberly Ribellia, to be the city’s new deputy city clerk.

The mayor’s press release noted that Ribellia, whose appointment was approved earlier this month, will be paid $125,000 and was hired “with no public vetting or advance notice, and over the objections of the outgoing longtime City Clerk and many of the experienced career staff members of the City.”

Caldwell said he also had problems with earmarks inserted into the budget by council members, which has been an ongoing concern for the mayor. He didn’t like that the council boosted the capital budget by $75 million. And he told council members that they don’t have the authority to approve or modify HART’s budget under the city charter.

Martin called Caldwell’s attacks on him out of place, and told Civil Beat that the mayor was clearly using the opportunity to play politics in anticipation of 2016.

“It’s unfortunate for somebody who’s always looking over his shoulder to personally attack me,” Martin said. “From the legislative perspective, the budget is what it is. We’re committed to work with the administration to address the priorities of our city and not be overly concerned with any personality conflicts.”

Martin said he not made a decision on whether to run for mayor in 2016.

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