Waiver Associated with Post Office Demolition Fails to Pass

June 19, 2013, 5:04 PM HST · Updated June 19, 5:14 PM
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Old Wailuku Post Office, file photo by Wendy Osher.

Old Wailuku Post Office prior to demolition, file photo by Wendy Osher.

By Wendy Osher

A proposed waiver that surfaced in a special meeting of the county council today failed to pass as an investigation looms over potential misuse of funds involving the demolition of the Old Wailuku Post Office.

The item fell two votes short of the required two-thirds support for passage, with five members voting against the waiver, and four in support.

Members voting in support of the measure included: Don Couch, Michael Victorino (with reservations), Robert Carroll, and Gladys Baisa.  Members voting against the waiver included: Elle Cochran, Stacy Crivello, Mike White, Don Guzman, and Riki Hokama.

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Member Carroll, who requested the waiver of referral to committees said, “The proposed bills would amend the fiscal year 2013 budget, and the fiscal year 2013 general obligation bond ordinances.” In seeking the waiver, he noted that the bills must pass on two readings before the end of the month.

Budget and Finance Committee Chair, Mike White said he would not support the measure, saying the item should go to committee for discussion.  “This bill in my view is both inappropriate and unnecessary at this time.  It’s unnecessary because there’s no financial need for this bill to be passed on such short notice; and if we can amend the 2013 budget to fix something from the 2012 budget, then we can certainly amend the 2014 budget in the next couple of months after we complete the investigation.”

“I believe it’s inappropriate because only the true impact of this measure would be to neuter the investigation that we have just decided to proceed with two days ago,” said White.  “Passage would effectively authorize the expenditures in question; and we would essentially be giving the administration a clean pass on this.”

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“If the investigation clears the administration of any wrongdoing, I would gladly support this concept in the next fiscal year; however, if we pass this bill, it’s unlikely that we will get much true cooperation from the administration to proceed with the investigation,” said White in discussion of the waiver request.

Council Member Riki Hokama asked whether or not the Dept. of Corp. Counsel, in signing off on the proposal, recognized there was an original violation of the previous budget ordinance.

Deputy Corporation Counsel Edward Kushi, Jr. responded saying, the deputy who signed off on the bill did so simply as a procedural mater to amend the FY2013 budget.  “There’s no implications as far as admissions on anybody’s part in terms of the violations alleged,” said Kushi.

Hokama responded saying the motion appears to be premature, and alleged that “no one wants to take responsibility and be accountable for actions that put us in this situation.” He concluded his statements saying he would not support the motion.

Council Member Don Guzman also questioned the urgency of holding a special meeting to pass a budget amendment for 2013 now, instead of going through the process of amending the 2014 budget at a later time.

Maui Budget Director Sandy Baz, who was on hand for the special meeting said, “The timeliness of the matter is because the FY2013 ends on June 30.  The capital appropriations have a six month additional amount of time to spend the money; but the actual fiscal year according to the charter is July 1 to June 30.” Therefore he said,  “the proper amendment would be to the fiscal year 2013 budget–and that would be prior to June 30th.”

While the council has in prior practice appropriated money after-the-fact for expenditures that happened already, he said, “we feel the proper way to do this is amending the fiscal year 2013 budget,” which is when the actual expenditures occurred.

Baz also added that while it has been done in the past, when the current administration came into office, and he reviewed the charter,  Baz said he made a directive that the budget would not be amended after June 30.

Unsatisfied with the clarity of answers given in regard to potential repercussions for not passing the amendment in 2013, and legalities for amending the budget at a later time, Guzman said, “In terms of timing, I want this building. I want to move forward; but I want to make sure this is procedurally correct, and there are some questions that haven’t been answered.”

Council Member Don Couch who spoke in support of the motion to waive, expressed frustration over limits on discussion of the bill itself.

When attempting to explain the economic impact of delays on the project, Couch was reminded to keep discussion to the matter of the waiver and not refer to the contents of the bill.

He continued saying, “We’re trying to squash any kind of conversation on the bill with a procedural matter, and I think it’s not right.  So I’m urging people to at least get the discussion on the floor right now because there is a time constraint, plus the $150,000 a month,” which referenced the amount of rent being paid for use of other county facilities until a building can be constructed for county use at the demolished post office site.

“It’s discerning that we aren’t going to be able to have a discussion because it is time sensitive and I just want the public out there to know that we aren’t allowed to have a discussion because people want to keep this quashed,” he said.

Council Member Elle Cochran who voted against the waiver said, “I believe what’s being said should be vetted through committee; and I also didn’t get a definitive (answer) through Budget Director or Corporation Counsel that there’s going to be such a huge backlash if we do not push it out.”

The bills seeking amendment to the 2013 budget as it pertains to the Old Wailuku Post Office demolition and master planning, now gets referred to the budget and finance committee for further consideration.

The committee is the same one that voted two days ago to recommend a formal investigation into the potential misuse of county funds for demolition of the facility.

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