Misuse or Misunderstanding: Old Wailuku Post Office Demolition Probed
By Wendy Osher
A council committee today recommended a formal investigation into the potential misuse of county funds for the demolition of the Old Wailuku Post Office.
During Monday’s meeting, committee members discussed how they should go about determining if there was a misunderstanding or misuse of county funds.
Committee Chair Riki Hokama, was among those who voted in favor of the recommendation. In earlier reports he claimed that the administration’s conceptual plan exceeded the scope of the council’s appropriation, which was for was for a single building, not master planning for expansion of the county campus.
“Let’s deal with it and find out from legal counsel what it means to the county. What does this mean to the bond counsel that represented us and sold the bond under the term rehabilitation? Does this impact us on the next go-around when we get ratings? I don’t know,” said Hokama.
“I wish this was a simple thing, but my point is we could have avoided all of this if the administration had presented us with the appropriate process request. Talking about demolishing is one thing. Getting a resolution to allow for the demolition of county assets is what the charter asks for. So why didn’t we get that request,” said Hokama.
Maui Managing Director Keith Regan, began testimony by offering an apology for any misunderstanding that may have occurred between the council and the administration on the matter.
“I assure you that any misunderstanding was inadvertent and not in any way malicious,” he said.
In his testimony, Regan offered comments on behalf of the Mayor, who is out of town this week, attending the National Conference of Mayors.
“Over the past months we have engaged in numerous discussions with each sitting council member, both budget chairs, and both council chairs regarding the progress of the old post office site,” said Regan. He continued saying, “These repeated conversations led us to believe that we had established a shared understanding that the work being done at this site was acceptable, and that it was time to move forward with discussing a master plan for our county buildings.”
After the meeting, Regan issued a statement to provide further clarification on where the administration stands as well as reaction to today’s vote.
Committee Chair Hokama said he could appreciate the sentiment from the administration, but he said, “nobody still knows who was responsible.”
The recommendation for a formal investigation was approved in a 6 to 3 vote by the Policy and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee, and now advances to the full council for consideration.
The recommendation calls for an investigation into various departments including: the Department of Management, Department of Finance, Budget Office, Office of the Mayor, Department of Public Works, and Department of the Corporation Counsel.
Votes in favor of the resolution included committee members: Michael Victorino, Stacy Crivello, Elle Cochran, Mike White, Don Guzman and Committee Chair Riki Hokama.
Council Member Mike White, who voted in favor of the resolution said, “I too want this to move forward as expeditiously as we can because it doesn’t do us any good, or the administration any good to have this hanging over us.
Don Guzman, the council member from Kahului said, “I believe this is the best vehicle to allow the administration to put on the record and explain to the public what had occurred. I think this is the appropriate method of how to go about doing that.”
Council Member Michael Victorino said he wanted an investigation, and voted for the resolution after initially saying he thought it went too far. “This is not a witch-hunt—it is really a methodology for us to do what is right, and what needs to be done. I truly hope the public understands—that’s what this is all about—that we’re doing the job that we’ve been tasked to do,” he said.
Molokai Council Member Stacy Crivello also voted in favor saying, “I believe the demolition was a good thing.” But, she said, the resolution would provide an avenue for inquiry, investigation, and a chance to move forward.
Elle Cochran said her preferred option would be mediation, but voted for the resolution when votes were cast.
Those voting against the resolution included members: Robert Carroll, Don Couch and Gladys Baisa.
Baisa, who voted against the recommendation said, “I would like to see us have our meeting on the amendment on Wednesday and see how that goes… and if it is still necessary, that we look at what has happened, so that everybody feels more comfortable about it and the public gets all the details that maybe they want, then I would support doing this later. So, my request is for a deferral.”
Council Member Don Couch, who was among the more outspoken critics of the resolution said, “I think it’s resolved. They came here. We’ve said our piece. To expend more tax payer dollars for more lawyers, for either/or both sides, to have more and more hearings—this committee has a lot on its plate to take away time from that,” he said.
“My biggest concern is all of this red tape we’re making. Somebody says misunderstanding—it’s the misinterpretation in our opinion of one word that isn’t very clear. We weren’t clear; they weren’t clear—that’s obvious,” said Couch.
Fellow council member Robert Carroll of East Maui said, “To think that we cannot sit down with them and work this out is ludicrous. It can be done, it should be done, and I hope it’s done.”
The resolution now advances to the full council for consideration. In the meantime, there’s also an agenda item that addresses costs incurred for the demolition of the Old Wailuku Post Office that is scheduled for consideration during a special meeting of the county council. That meeting is scheduled to take place at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, June 19, in the council chambers.
***This story was updated to provide additional information and comments from today’s meeting.