Wednesday, November 25, 2015         

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Rail board will not sue for control of budget

The transit authority's leaders decline to challenge the City Council's oversight

By Gene Park


An independent financial audit of the city's rail project and searches for an executive director and a ninth voting member are among the tasks before for the newly established Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation.

Jurisdiction over the $5.3 billion project was handed to the 10-member board Friday during its first meeting.

The eight voting members adopted the City Council's budget for the authority, which took the city Rapid Transit Division under its wing. City Permitting and Planning Director David Tanoue is a nonvoting member of the board.

After months of legal threats volleyed between Mayor Peter Carlisle and the City Council over who has oversight of the authority's budget, the rail board decided to not pursue legal action against the Council's version of the budget, which was enacted with a veto override earlier this week.

The Council has asserted that the City Charter amendment that created the board intended that the Council approve appropriation requests. Carlisle has said the rail authority should be the only entity to approve its budget, and initially was willing to go to court over the matter.

Earlier this week Carlisle deferred to the transit authority on the legal question. Yesterday Don Horner, who will chair the authority's Finance Committee, said a lawsuit is "not in the best interest of taxpayers."

"The public is the greatest stakeholder of oversight, and the Charter requires that," said Horner, who is chief executive officer of First Hawaiian Bank. "We intend to engage the public in the budgetary process."

Yesterday the board adopted the City Council's $20.5 million operating budget and $355 million capital budget for the authority, which was close to what Carlisle's administration had proposed.

Council Chairman Ernie Martin said in an interview Friday it is "absolutely absurd" to think the Council would give up its oversight over the largest public works project in the state's history.

"In the likely event of cost overruns, HART will have to seek even more money in additional subsidies for construction," Martin and Council Vice Chairman Ikaika Anderson said in a joint statement.

The board also voted to conduct a financial audit of the project, from the beginning of the 0.5 percent general excise surcharge in 2007 to now.

Former city Corporation Counsel Carrie Okinaga was appointed board chairwoman.

The board is accepting applications for a ninth voting member through its website,

Toru Hamayasu, who has headed the city Rapid Transit Division, was selected as the agency's interim executive director. The board will hire an executive search firm that specializes in transit to lead a nationwide hunt for a permanent executive director.

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