David Shapiro: HART directors should cooperate on federal subpoenas
City Councilwoman Heidi Tsuneyoshi is fighting a noble battle to force into the open the secretive dealings that have caused rail construction costs to balloon from $5.2 billion to $9.2 billion and counting.
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City Councilwoman Heidi
Tsuneyoshi is fighting a noble battle to force into the open the secretive dealings that have caused rail construction costs to balloon from
$5.2 billion to $9.2 billion and counting.
Since joining the Council in January, Tsuneyoshi has won support for an overdue deep-dive audit into rail’s grim finances and questioned a proposed public-private partnership for the final phase of construction that would conceal true costs.
Now she’s challenging attempts by the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation to resist federal grand jury subpoenas in a criminal investigation of the project.
Three subpoenas seek rail contracts and subcontracts, change orders, correspondence with the Federal Transit Administration, payments to owners of property taken for rail and full minutes of HART board of directors meetings, including executive sessions.
The executive sessions appear to be HART’s main worry; the rail agency stonewalled state Auditor Les Kondo on a similar request when he audited HART for the Legislature last year.
After the Caldwell administration said it would spend up to $50,000 on outside counsel to advise HART on the subpoenas, Tsuneyoshi introduced a resolution objecting to the use of general city funds and requiring HART to pay attorneys from its own $3.5 million legal budget.
At a news conference she voiced the deeper concern that HART has no legitimate reason not to give the grand jury minutes of the closed-door meetings, saying they “should be turned over without the need for outside counsel.”
Hawaii law, Tsuneyoshi said, “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.”
She has valid points about both the law and the bad look HART gives by hiding
behind claims of attorney-client privilege and other legal dodges to resist federal
If directors and officers did nothing wrong, as they claim, HART should have no fear of the grand jury reviewing all of the records requested. If nothing is amiss and no charges are filed, information given the grand jury remains confidential.
Attempting to restrict the records leaves the impression that smoking guns are being concealed, further eroding public confidence in a project that has little left after more than a decade of lies and shoddy performance.
And it’s a fight HART will likely lose if the feds dig in on full compliance with the subpoenas.
Kondo had a tight deadline to finish his state audit and chose not to pick a subpoena fight, but federal prosecutors have the luxury of time and hard-nosed judges with little patience for stonewalling.
Tsuneyoshi is right that city leaders should demand openness and cooperation, not give HART more lawyers for evasive action.
Reach David Shapiro at email@example.com.