City Council Members Want Rail Public Relations Contracts Audited, Cancelled
Honolulu City Budget Chair Ann Kobayashi and other members of her committee are advancing a resolution that calls for the city auditor to examine millions of dollars in public relations contracts that were issued by the city and its rail agency, the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transit, to promote the state’s $5.3 billion rail project. (see some of the details here)
At a budget hearing on Monday, Kobayashi and two other council members introduced Resolution 12-149, which asks the city auditor to review where nearly $5 million of city taxpayer dollars has been spent annually and if the expenditures to promote the city’s elevated steel rail system are justified.
“Why do you need all this PR?” Kobayashi asked Dan Grabauskas, CEO of HART, during his testimony yesterday.
“That’s all what I’m looking to try to uncover. These are all things that happened prior to my arrival. These are contracts that were executed quite some time ago,” said Grabauskas, who began his job on April 1.
City Council Budget Vice Chair Tulsi Gabbard, who also introduced the resolution, questioned why “people’s hard earned dollars are being thrown by the million into this unknown pot.”
“It’s been frustrating for us to have to peel back the layers of who is employed by HART, who is employed by the major contractors and then the many subcontractors that are out there,” Gabbard said.
It is not certain how much of an impact the audit can really make. The city auditor would not begin to review the PR contracts until August and would not release an audit until the end of next fiscal year – one year from now.
Honolulu Council member Tom Berg does not want to wait that long. He is pushing for a closer examination of the rail contracts, including public relations efforts, but he wants to take the initiative further.
Berg introduced Resolution 12-160 “to put a stop to the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation’s (HART) frivolous expenditures that continue to promote rail.”
Berg called the 5 HART employees and 19 consultants hired to promote the rail project, including some that have attacked people and groups opposed to the rail project, is an “affront to the taxpayer.”
“In total, HART has hired 24 entities pitching this rail and providing misinformation to the public that this rail will create 12,000 jobs, which is false, create traffic relief, which is false, be green on the environment, which is false, and is financially sound, which is more than misleading. It wouldn’t surprise me that the over $4 million a year spent by HART for rail propaganda is being funneled to fund the attacks and smear campaign against those with anti-rail positions,” Berg said.
“I hope the media does their duty and exposes HART’s scheme to funnel our tax payer money into pure rail propaganda- whether it’s derived through IMUA RAIL, or PRP’s attack ads- where is the money coming from? At the end of the day, the taxpayer should win this battle and a stop to the propaganda by HART undertaken no matter if it’s through my resolution or another,” stated Berg.
Berg said HART “should do what’s right” and “end the frivolous public outreach scheme right here and now.”
Cayetano Under Fire, but Has His Supporters
Former Gov. Ben Cayetano is under fire from Pacific Resource Partnership and its affiliates since he is running for Honolulu mayor to stop the $5.3 billion elevated steel on steel Honolulu rail project from being constructed.
The PRP has launched “push polls”, which Cayetano say have “smeared” him by pushing negative information about him through the poll. The mainland company hired by PRP has been fined for this activity in the past.
The organization also launched several web sites attacking Cayetano and is running advertisements attacking Cayetano in conjunction with other pro-rail advocates. The rhetoric is down right nasty, Cayetano supporters say.
In defense of Cayetano, one of his supporters writes in a recent email: “Cayetano pushed through one of the biggest state personal income tax reductions in the nation at the time • Reduced the size and growth of state government to less than the inflation rate • Established the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority • Implemented civil service reform • Built a record number of public schools • Built a record number of homes for Native Hawaiian homesteaders • Developed the Hawai‘i Convention Center to boost tourism • Started the Hawai‘i State Art Museum • Began construction of the new John A. Burns School of Medicine and research center for the University of Hawai‘i • Kept his promise to make public education his highest priority by sparing schools from budget cuts at the expense of other state departments • Ordered the State Attorney General to investigate the Bishop Estate, an $11 billion trust fund set up for the benefit and education of Hawaiian children • When Hawaii’s economy rebounded in 1999, Ben promoted growth in new areas to further diversify the economy • Created the nation’s first state-funded after-school Plus (A ) in 1989.”
Cayetano, who says he has taken on powerful special interests before, said the campaign is “getting rough” because he is now taking on the special interests behind the rail project. He’s also ahead in recent media polls.
Cayetano Reaches Out to Inouye on His Candidacy and Rail, But Gets Snubbed
Arguably the most powerful advocate of the Honolulu rail is U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye, Hawaii’s senior senator and the U.S. Senate appropriations chair. Inouye, a Democrat, is speaking out against Cayetano’s candidacy for Honolulu mayor and instead is backing former city managing director Kirk Caldwell.
All three – Inouye, Cayetano and Caldwell – are Democrats.
Typically, Democrats in leadership positions don’t back one Democrat over the other before the primary election, which is set for August 11. But Inouye has regularly violated that unspoken rule.
Cayetano said he paid his respects to Inouye before he decided to run for Honolulu mayor, with the intention of stopping the Honolulu rail project from being constructed. He wrote this letter to Inouye to explain his position, but Inouye never responded.
I was hoping to tell you personally that I will announce my candidacy for Mayor next week. I have always supported you and I have not forgotten your helping me in my 1976 reelection to the State House (I still have that photo you gave me with its wonderful message) and every one of my elections thereafter. Sadly, I differ with you on the rail project proposed by the City for the following reasons.
(1) I will not bother you with arguments about costs except to note that two studies, one by the state and the other by the Federal Transit Administration itself concluded that the construction costs are likely to reach $7 billion rather than $5.3 billion.
(2) Moreover, it is difficult to understand why in a state that relies so heavily on tourism, the City wants to build an elevated, heavy rail project, 35 – 60 feet high across its waterfront, disturbing ancient burial grounds and historical sites . I have attached renderings drawn to scale by the Hawaii Chapter of the American Institute of Architects which opposes the elevated rail project for your perusal.
3) There is no other city in the nation with a metropolitan area comparable to Honolulu’s that has or is contemplating building a rail system like the City’s. Most are considering dedicate bus lanes, light rail, managed lanes and other less costly alternatives.
(4) There are only 900,000 residents who live on Oahu. That is an awfully small tax base to pay for a $3.5 billion EPA mandated sewer upgrade (in addition to regular maintenance), another billion or so to upgrade the City’s water system — which, I was told by Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi and Council Chairman Ernie Martin — experiences a broken water main every day — and a $3.8 of a $5.3 billion elevated, heavy rail project.
Someone asked me why I would want to be mayor after serving two terms as governor. Well, titles don’t mean much to me — doing what I think is in the public’s best interests does.
Thank you for reading this. Vicky joins me in wishing you and Irene a Great 2012!
With much aloha,