A Maui County Council committee investigating why a developer was allowed to illegally build a monster house in Napili has effectively ended the probe, saying the lone bid to handle the matter was too expensive.

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The decision not to move forward with the investigation came to light last week during a meeting of the planning and sustainable use committee, chaired by council member Tamara Paltin.

Paltin holds the West Maui seat where the monster house is located.

Developer Greg Brown is building this Napili house. The County Council is dropping an investigation of the project. Ryan Siphers/Civil Beat/2022

The project, under construction by developer Greg Brown at 5385 Lower Honoapiilani Road, has stirred a cauldron of community protest over its towering height and massive size.

Maui County Council member Tamara Paltin Courtesy: Tamara Paltin

In response to public outcry, the County Council passed a resolution on Aug. 5 to investigate why officials allowed the super-sized building to go forward and why they granted the developer an exemption from Special Management Area permitting, a process that would have subjected the project to public comment and scrutiny.

Outgoing County Council member and committee vice chair Kelly King authored the resolution to seek answers. After the council adopted the measure, it landed in Paltin’s committee, which King co-chairs.

But rather than having her committee conduct the investigation, Paltin chose to outsource it, something King says she discovered after the fact. The county issued a request for proposals on Aug. 31 but received no bids by the Sept. 29 deadline.

County Council Chair Alice Lee then approved an alternative method of procurement, allowing the county to directly solicit bids from three possible vendors.

Ultimately one vendor, Jim Pederson, a Maui-based planning consultant, offered to undertake the investigation at a cost of $92,200. Paltin felt the price tag was too steep.

“We declined that offer. It was pretty substantial,” Paltin said at last Thursday’s meeting.

Council member Mike Molina asked if there was a ceiling on the amount the committee was willing to spend on the investigation. Paltin said no, without further explanation and it’s unclear why she would have rejected the bid if there was no set budget.

Mike Molina 

Several residents expressed frustration over how Paltin has handled the matter and questioned whether she had the authority to singlehandedly turn down the bid.

“This freaking sucks,” said Leonard Junya Nakoa. “I’m pissed off.”

Sam Small, a video producer and self-styled government watchdog, said he’s flabbergasted that Paltin would turn down what he considers a reasonable offer to investigate the matter.

“Spending $92,000 to expose corruption is cheap,” he said.

Small has offered no proof that county officials acted illegally to allow Brown to build the monster house in violation of code.

“Given the Pandora’s Box this investigation could open, it’s not surprising that very manipulative steps were taken to kill it,” Small said.

Josh Downer, an attorney and president of the Napili Bay Community Association, said he won’t speculate on Paltin’s motives.

“I have never attacked her motives and continue to believe that she is a sincere public servant. All I can speak to are her actions and, in this case, she has chosen not to follow through on the investigation and so we’ll take action,” the lawyer said.

Downer is drafting a lawsuit against the county on behalf of the Napili Bay Community Association.

With regards to the investigation, Paltin has said she would launch an investigation only after she received written documentation of wrongdoing by county employees.

The community association members have held off turning anything over until the committee launches an investigation and issues subpoenas.

In concluding last week’s meeting, Paltin reiterated that she hasn’t gotten the documentation she sought.

“I have never received any proof of intentional wrongdoing,” she said. “That’s about all I’ve got to say.”

Paltin said she was not available for an interview with Civil Beat. But in an email she said “an investigation would not satisfy the community.”

“It would have been a legislative investigation and the legislative body would have no authority to take action, no enforcement authority, no penalty authority. The community has been clear in their desire, they want the house torn down at Greg Brownʻs expense and an investigation would not accomplish that, even if we did pay close to six figures of taxpayer money, which I thought was too much,” Paltin wrote.

In King’s view, asking the public to provide documentation as a condition for an official investigation is wrong.

Maui Politics - Kelly King
Kelly King represents South Maui. Bryan Berkowitz/Civil Beat/2020

Still, King said two people have provided her with information in sealed envelopes that she has since turned over to the FBI.

She would not disclose who gave her the material and if she knows what it is.

County Council chair Lee said an official investigation could still be done.

“This can easily be brought up in the next term. Any council member can bring it up if they wish,” Lee said.

Civil Beat’s coverage of Maui County is supported in part by grants from the Nuestro Futuro Foundation and the Fred Baldwin Memorial Foundation.

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