HART should pay its own legal fees, councilwoman says
Honolulu Councilwoman Heidi Tsuneyoshi says the agency tasked with building the $9.2 billion East Kapolei-to- Ala Moana Center rail line shouldn’t use additional city taxpayer money to hire a lawyer to deal with three federal subpoenas that are looking into wrongdoing at the agency.
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Honolulu Councilwoman Heidi Tsuneyoshi says the agency tasked with building the $9.2 billion East Kapolei-to-
Ala Moana Center rail line shouldn’t use additional city taxpayer money to hire a lawyer to deal with three federal subpoenas that are looking into wrongdoing at the agency.
Tsuneyoshi on Friday introduced Resolution 19-154, which calls on the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation to follow the requirements of the Honolulu City Charter and use $3.75 million it already has earmarked in its budget for legal expenses to pay the $50,000 that is being sought.
Officials with HART and Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s administration said Tsuneyoshi’s resolution is premature because such an allocation still will need to be approved by the City Council.
The need for the money came to light in a Honolulu Star-Advertiser story two weeks ago when a deputy city attorney said the cash was needed to “advise HART regarding matters which involve issues pertaining to federal criminal law or procedure.”
At a news conference Monday, Tsuneyoshi said she wants HART “to pay for its own” outside legal counsel.
“Within the charter, any outside legal representation that HART does require is to be paid out of revenues from the authority, and it should be agreed upon by the authority and the Council,” she said. “So at this point in time, there are a lot of questions about why the decision was made to spend the $50,000 for outside legal counsel, which is sure to escalate to further costs.”
Tsuneyoshi said she’s been told expertise is needed on how to address a subpoena’s demand for the release of the HART board’s executive session minutes. “By state law those records can be turned over to a federal government and should be turned over without the need for outside counsel.”
She doesn’t see any reason why such records can’t or shouldn’t be turned over, she said.
The state law “clearly specifies that any documents including executive session minutes can be turned over to another government entity such as the state or federal government, especially when it comes to issues of civil or criminal justice and proceedings that are moving forward,” she said. “So this is exactly the reason why the state law is in place when situations like this arise, that those documents can be turned over without issue.”
Tsuneyoshi said she’s not yet talked to HART board members, HART Chief Executive Officer Andrew Robbins or administration officials about the funding but that she expects them to appear at committee meetings on the resolution soon.
Andrew Pereira, a spokesman for Caldwell, said that despite news of the impending hire, approval of the $50,000 payment still must be made by the Council. At this point a resolution seeking the approval has not yet been introduced, he said.
“The hiring of outside legal counsel would be to examine all of the issues related to the subpoenas issued to HART since the Department of the Corporation Counsel lacks expertise in this area,” Pereira said.
The money would come from the Corporation Counsel’s consultant budget, which sets aside funds for lawyers to be contracted when city attorneys do not have the expertise to address certain issues, he said.
HART officials, through a spokesman, said, “HART believes city funds will need to be used one way or another for the legal representation associated with the subpoenas HART has received. HART looks forward to discussing with Council members how best to pay for legal counsel.”
Sources said the $3.75 million set aside for legal expenses is earmarked for attorneys to deal with
outside claims involving
Since taking her seat
on the Council in January, Tsuneyoshi has been among the rail project’s staunchest critics. She convinced her colleagues in March to support spending $2 million for
a forensic audit. An outside auditor is needed because city auditors don’t have the expertise for such a job, the city auditor’s office said.
Tsuneyoshi also has opposed additional funding for the rail project, including its rail stations, and has raised strong reservations about HART’s plan to take on a
private partner to carry rail construction to its end stages in exchange for a long-term operations and maintenance contract.