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Honolulu City Councilman Ikaika Anderson has lost his post as head of the Zoning and Planning Committee to Trevor Ozawa in a shakeup announced Thursday by Council Chair Ernie Martin.
Martin issued a memo listing new leadership and membership for Council committees. He didn’t respond to a request for comment about why he made the changes.
Anderson said in an email and telephone interview that he believes he’s being punished for attending a fundraiser for Mayor Kirk Caldwell, a rival of Martin’s who is seeking re-election.
The action came a day after a move to strip Anderson of his position as vice-chair of the Council was aborted.
Anderson said Thursday that Martin had met with him last week and told him a majority of the Council did not want him to continue to serve as Council vice-chair and chairman of the Zoning and Planning Committee.
Anderson said Martin told him it was disrespectful for him to attend a fundraiser for Caldwell in May. At the time, Martin had pulled papers to run for mayor, but the councilman from the North Shore decided not to run.
Martin said that Ozawa was similarly unhappy that Anderson went to the fundraiser, Anderson said.
“I didn’t know I had to check with him about whose fundraisers I can and cannot attend,” Anderson told Civil Beat. “Kirk Caldwell is my friend and I routinely attend my friends’ fundraisers.”
During a phone interview Thursday, Ozawa denied ever voicing concerns about Anderson attending a Caldwell fundraiser. “That’s completely false,” Ozawa said. “I don’t care what he does in his free time.”
After learning there was a move afoot to strip him of his vice-chairmanship, Anderson introduced a resolution to give Councilwoman Kymberly Pine the post.
That same day, Ozawa introduced a competing resolution to give Joey Manahan the title. Martin chose to only put Ozawa’s proposal on the Wednesday meeting agenda, and it looked as though Manahan was on track to become vice-chair.
But during the meeting, Ozawa surprisingly shelved the resolution. He said Thursday that although there were enough votes to replace Anderson, he decided to give him another chance.
Anderson had a completely different explanation in an email he sent late Thursday.
“Without my urging, my colleagues made it known to Martin & Councilmember Trevor Ozawa that a solid majority supports me as Council Vice Chair. Lacking the required votes, Ozawa was forced to file his resolution to oust me at the July 6 Council meeting,” Anderson wrote. “As committee assignments are at the sole discretion of the Council Chair, Martin decided to punish me in the only way possible — he removed me as Zoning and Planning Committee chair. I suppose this is the price for attending a Mayor Kirk Caldwell fundraiser under a Martin/Ozawa partnership.”
Ozawa said the leadership change was prompted by a desire to have Council members whose districts are most impacted by various issues be at the helm of relevant committees.
Ozawa represents neighborhoods stretching from Ala Moana to Hawaii Kai, while Anderson’s district includes Kailua, Kaneohe, Kahaluu and Waimanalo.
“It’s just time for a change,” said Ozawa, noting that there are many development projects under way in his district. “It’s nothing against (Anderson). I think that he has been in that position for seven years and the issues from seven years ago until today are different.”
Tension between Ozawa and Anderson surfaced during a Zoning and Planning Committee meeting last month. When Ozawa sought to question a testifier who opposed a development in his district, Anderson told Ozawa to keep his question brief, and in response Ozawa left the meeting. Because Ozawa’s absence meant there wasn’t a quorum, the public hearing had to recess and resume hours later.
Ozawa expressed frustration Thursday that he wasn’t given more time to question the testifier. “If the Council member of that district would like to fully vet out the concerns of the committee, that takes precedence over moving along an agenda,” he said.
But he emphasized that the disagreement wasn’t the cause of the leadership reorganization.
After the disagreement, Ozawa shared with Martin his concerns about how the situation was handled. He said he never asked Martin to make him chair of zoning and planning.
“This meeting is, I believe, such small part of the decision of the chair to put a new focus on the Council,” Ozawa said.
Losing the committee chairmanship is a much bigger blow to Anderson than losing the vice-chair position would have been. The latter is largely ceremonial, while the former serves as the gatekeeper for major land-use changes on Oahu.
Anderson will now serve as vice-chair for the Committee on Parks, Community and Customer Services under Pine. He will remain the Council representative to the Hawaii State Association of Counties, but won’t have any role on the zoning committee.
Ozawa previously led the Committee on Executive Matters and Legal Affairs. That job now goes to Ron Menor, who formerly led the Committee on Public Health, Safety and Welfare.
Brandon Elefante takes Menor’s post as the head of the Public Health, Safety and Welfare Committee. He previously led the Committee on Business, Economic Development and Tourism, which Martin dissolved Thursday.
Ozawa said that he thinks the new committee leadership positions can help the Council find new solutions to problems. He noted that Elefante in particular has been passionate about homelessness issues and said he had suggested to Martin that Elefante take that job.
“I think these changes are for the betterment of the City and County of Honolulu,” Ozawa said. “It’s not about taking away a title from Ikaika or removing him from committees, but his reactions are speaking volumes and it’s clear we need to have a new direction.”
Anderson said Martin has “proven himself to be untrustworthy” because he told Anderson that the majority of the Council did not want him to be vice-chair, but that didn’t turn out to be the case.
He also said Martin’s leadership divides the Council due to his antagonistic relationship with Caldwell.
“The Council’s credibility with the public has seriously deteriorated with the constant bickering between Chair Martin and the Mayor,” Anderson wrote. “It has impacted the Council’s ability to function as we are caught up in the middle of it all.”
“When the Chair and Council should be working together on the major issues before us, we instead spend our time picking fights with the administration and each other in this never ending one-upsmanship,” he said.