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Honolulu rail authority budgets $200K to help employees cope with federal subpoenas

                                Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation Executive Director Andrew Robbins acknowledged Thursday that more agency employees have received subpoenas as part of a federal investigation.
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Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation Executive Director Andrew Robbins acknowledged Thursday that more agency employees have received subpoenas as part of a federal investigation.

Another batch of federal grand jury subpoenas was delivered to the offices of the Honolulu rail authority last month, and the rail board approved a budget Thursday that includes $200,000 for next year to hire legal counsel to assist rail employees who have been served.

Andrew Robbins, executive director of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, said he does not know how many HART employees have been served with subpoenas to date.

HART officials already had disclosed that a “handful” of staff members had been served in July, and today Robbins acknowledged another batch of subpoenas arrived at HART’s downtown offices at Alii Place about a month ago.

The money “is to represent the employees who may have received a subpoena — not employees who are targeted or subjects in any way of the investigation, but just subpoenaed for interviews, that type of thing,” Robbins said. “Our belief is that they should be entitled to legal representation.”

HART itself received three subpoenas in February demanding vast amounts of documentation in connection with a federal criminal investigation. The exact focus of the investigation is still unclear.

Among other documents, the subpoenas served on HART demanded records related to the relocation program for property owners in the path of the $9.2 billion rail line, and minutes of closed-door executive session meetings by the HART board of directors.

The city corporation counsel in August asked the Honolulu City Council for permission to hire the San Francisco law firm Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld LLP to represent current and former HART employees who received subpoenas.

However, the Council’s Executive Matters and Legal Affairs Committee dead­locked in a 4-4 vote on Aug. 21 on a resolution that would have authorized spending up to $300,000 to hire the firm to represent current and former rail employees who were summoned for interviews in connection with the federal probe.

Robbins said Thursday the Council wanted the money for lawyers to be included in the HART budget, so it was wrapped into the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. HART is prohibited from using federal or state funding to hire lawyers to help address the subpoenas, and must instead use city funds.

The HART budget was unanimously approved Thursday by the HART board, and will now go to the Honolulu City Council for further review. Council Chairman Ikaika Anderson declined to comment Thursday afternoon on the issue of providing money for lawyers for HART employees, saying he needs more information on the HART proposal.

The HART budget also includes $2.4 million for HART to move from its current offices, which include three floors and an additional ground-floor suite in Alii Place. HART’s lease at Alii Place expires in November 2020, and Robbins said Hawaiian Electric will take over the space. The rail authority has not yet found new offices to rent, he said.

In other business, the rail authority board of directors unanimously approved a “consolidated change order” totaling nearly $18.2 million in connection with the construction of the West Oahu and Kamehameha station groups.

Contractor Nan Inc. was awarded a $56 million contract in 2015 to build the three West Oahu Stations, but the design of the stations and of certain “interface” elements such as fare gates, escalators and control systems for the rail line were not yet complete, which led to changes and delays, the rail board was told.

Already-approved change orders increased the West Oahu contract amount to $75.81 million, and the board approved an additional change order Thursday that boosted the total value of the contract to $87.1 million.

Nan was also awarded the Kamehameha Highway Station Group contract in 2015 for $115.8 million, but change orders have increased the value of that contract to nearly $124.3 million. The board approved another change order Thursday to increase the value of that contract to $131.15 million.

The board Thursday also approved a three-year contract extension worth up to $33.7 million for consultant Lea+Elliot Inc.

The company originally had a five-year contract for $43.9 million to provide support services and oversight for the rail core systems contractor, but that consulting contract needed to be extended and expanded, in large part because of delays on the rail project, according to HART Director of Design and Construction Frank Kosich.

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