With the primary election now a scant five months away, acrimony between Mayor Kirk Caldwell and City Council Chairman Ernie Martin’s leadership team amped up last week, with accusations flying both ways.
Martin has said he intends to run for mayor, although perhaps not this year. But he and his backers have become vehement Caldwell critics.
On Monday members of the Council Budget Committee grilled Caldwell lieutenants about a controversial $1.25 million contract tied to a New York-based consulting firm that will guide redevelopment of Ala Moana Beach Park. Councilman Trevor Ozawa suggested it was cronyism, a claim the administration vehemently denied.
On Tuesday, Caldwell held a news conference atop the Waimanalo Gulch Sanitary Landfill to question why Council members were poised to override his veto of a metal recycling discount bill he likened to “corporate welfare.”
At its monthly meeting Wednesday, Council members did exactly that, voting 7-2 to override the veto. Before doing so, several Council members blasted Caldwell for making his case in the media instead of speaking to them directly.
“The mayor’s never spoken to us about his concerns,” Ozawa said. “Yet he’ll hold a press conference outside with a hard hat and a vest and a camera crew over and over and over again, not for the people of Honolulu, but for his own political ambition, and that is the truth. And I’m sick of it.”
The skirmishing kicked into high gear Monday, during the question-and-answer period of a Budget Committee presentation by the Department of Parks and Recreation.
Ozawa asked parks projects chief Chris Dacus what criteria were used to hire the Ala Moana consultant, New York-based Biederman Redevelopment Ventures. In particular, he asked whether the decision was influenced by the Howard Hughes Corp., developer of Ward Village, a project across Ala Moana Boulevard from the park.
“I keep hearing — I’m just going to put it out there — that you folks heard about these people through Howard Hughes,” he said. “We heard that Howard Hughes was encouraging you folks.”
Dacus said “the New York company, we did hear about from Howard Hughes,” adding that “pre-qualified consultants were asked to submit proposals.” From that pool, Biederman was selected, he said.
“There were some very particular parts of the project that we wanted to try to push the envelope, that aren’t very typical locally or nationally,” Dacus said, noting that Biederman designed the renovation of New York’s iconic Bryant Park. “There are only a couple of firms in the United States that are very good at this particular process,” he said.
Ozawa said he saw Howard Hughes executives at a March community meeting to which he was not invited but that he attended anyway after hearing about it through the media.
“The mayor seems to listen to Howard Hughes and not to the Council member of the area or the local people,” he said.
Caldwell spokesman Jesse Broder Van Dyke disputed Ozawa’s claims.
“His allegation that Howard Hughes selected (Biederman) is false,” Broder Van Dyke said. A four-person committee led by Dacus selected Biederman out of a group of 39 consultants asked to submit bids, he said, adding Biederman “was not actively recruited.”
Broder Van Dyke also emailed to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser a chart showing that Biederman is getting only $384,000, or about 31 percent of the $1.25 million contract. Hawaii-based firms are getting $542,000, or 43 percent of the contract. Other mainland firms are getting $220,000, or 18 percent, with the remaining going to excise taxes and expenses.
Todd Apo, Howard Hughes’ vice president for community development, said that while his firm “did suggest Biederman Redevelopment — which has a great national reputation for doing innovative park redevelopment work — as one company for the city Parks Department to consider, we have not worked with them and were not involved in the selection process.”
At his news conference Tuesday, Caldwell blasted the Council leadership for pushing through Bill 50 (2015), giving metal recyclers a 25 percent discount on disposal fees at both the Waimanalo Gulch Sanitary Landfill and the HPOWER waste-to-energy facility.
Caldwell reiterated his biggest concern, that mainland-based Schnitzer Steel Hawaii Co. would draw
89 percent of a projected $600,000 in discounted money.
“I cannot believe that any one of the nine members would like to give over $500,000 to a company that says, ‘We’re going to continue to do this whether we get the money or not,’” Caldwell said. “I just can’t believe it. It’s not a good use of taxpayer dollars.”
Instead, Caldwell offered up a “compromise” bill that would apply the break to only the first 1,250 tons of residue accepted at HPOWER, not the landfill. His plan would cost $85,433, he said, and he suggested Council members use the savings to help fund his plan to create an eight-person housing development division.
Caldwell pointedly called out Martin, the recycling bill’s sponsor.
“The chair of the Council has encouraged that this bill move forward,” Caldwell said. “To me it looks like a political decision rather than a good policy that encourages recycling.”
Martin on Wednesday called it “insulting” to the Council that Caldwell chose to offer his compromise through the media.
“Holding press conferences, you further alienate yourself,” the chairman said. “That’s totally out of protocol and against the Sunshine Law.”
Councilman Joey Manahan said Caldwell had months to offer an alternative and waited until the last minute to do so. Caldwell’s decision to not offer his bill directly to Council members, but through a news conference, is “insincere” and “further drives a wedge … between the administration and the body of this Council.”
Members Brandon Elefante and Kymberly Pine voted against the override.