Honolulu City Council Chairman Ernie Martin made a curious decision last week when nominating a new member to the board responsible for overseeing construction of the city’s $6.9 billion commuter rail project.

On Friday, Martin chose John Henry Felix, an 86-year-old former councilman with a history of rule-breaking, to replace Ivan Lui-Kwan on the 10-member Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation.

Lui-Kwan’s five-year term ends June 30, and he has said that he would not ask to be reappointed as one of the council’s three chosen members on the HART board.

But Felix appears to be strange choice for Martin, who is considering challenging Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell in this year’s election.

Honolulu Rail HART Train Car
Honolulu’s 20-mile commuter rail project could cost anywhere from $6.9 billion to $8.1 billion based on current estimates. Anthony Quintano / Civil Beat

Felix served on the Honolulu City Council from 1988 to 2002. In 1992, he was part of the majority that blocked a general excise tax surcharge that would have helped pay for a $2 billion rail system similar to the one being built today.

He told the Honolulu Star-Bulletin in 1998 that he didn’t support the project at that time because the federal government only dedicated $700 million to building the system. That was only about one-third the total cost, and Felix said he wanted the feds to pay for two-thirds.

Felix got into trouble with the city while he was on the council for operating a commercial wedding business out of his Aina Haina home in violation of municipal zoning regulations, causing him to pay daily fines.

He eventually settled his disagreement with the city by paying a $49,500 fine.

But that wasn’t the last of his troubles. In 2009, Felix was popped by the Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission for accepting loans from two individuals that were in excess of what the law allowed and for false reporting.

He eventually agreed to pay $50,000 for the campaign spending violations, which was a record at the time.

Felix defended himself in an interview with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Monday, saying that he was never “accused of any wrongdoing” in the campaign spending case, and that he was eventually vindicated by the courts in his fight over the at-home wedding chapel incident.

Martin also defended his choice of Felix in a statement issued to the newspaper, saying that he will “add a unique level of insight and leadership to the HART board.”

“He was never in favor of building the rail project,” Martin said, “but he has always been committed to common sense and the cost-effective delivery of government services.”

Felix describes himself in his nomination papers as a disciple of human service and volunteerism. His 15-page resume, which you can see here, lists the many positions he has held over the years as well as a 1954 certificate from the Honolulu City Clerk’s Office that shows that he had registered to vote.


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