Colleen Hanabusa, a former Hawaii congresswoman and former chairwoman of the board that oversees the city’s troubled rail project, was the only bidder on a contract worth $924,000 with the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, which Hanabusa won.
The contract hires a consultant to serve as a liaison to the Honolulu City Council, state Legislature, “Congressional Committees and appropriate federal and state agencies. The selected Offeror (consultant) will provide coordination, counsel, and information to HART and will advise and represent HART with respect to state transportation policy, legislation, regulation, and state funding opportunities.”
Hanabusa is a lawyer, former state Senate president and unsuccessful candidate for Honolulu mayor. She also served on the HART board from June 2015 to October 2016 and chaired the board from May 2016 to October 2016.
Hanabusa’s contract is worth $216,000 for the first 18 months, with a 7.7% increase in “Option Year 2;” and a second increase of 7.1% in the final year for an aggregate total of $924,000 over six years, HART spokesman Joey Manahan said.
Hanabusa’s contract is tentatively scheduled to go into effect on Friday, according to the original request for proposal.
Hanabusa did not immediately respond to a Honolulu Star- Advertiser request for comment on the contract Wednesday.
Hanabusa’s contract came as a surprise to several HART board members on Wednesday, although some said they are not always notified of new consultant contracts.
It also followed Friday’s announcement to the board by Lori Kahikina, HART’s interim CEO and executive director, that she was cutting costs by letting an unspecified number of consultants go, along with dismissing 48 of 112 HART staff.
HART faces a deficit of $3.577 billion with no easy strategy for plugging it.
Hanabusa’s contract raises questions about both HART’s spending priorities and the propriety of hiring a former HART board chairwoman, said HART board member Natalie Iwasa, a certified public accountant and certified fraud examiner.
“As far as perceptions, there are going to be people who are concerned about that, given she was a HART chair and a HART board member,” Iwasa said. “As a certified fraud examiner, we also look at whether there was insider information.”
But Hanabusa’s political background and ties also could be an asset, Iwasa said.
“She knows the system at both the federal level and state level,” Iwasa said.
Board member Joe Uno, who runs his own construction cost consulting firm, said it would not be a surprise that HART’s request for a new consultant was written for Hanabusa, a key player in the creation of Act 1 that set up the funding mechanism to fund the rail project, which has now mushroomed to a cost of $12.449 billion and is not scheduled for completion for another 10 years.
“You don’t have to be a genius to figure this one out,” Uno said. “They wrote that RFP (request for proposal) around her. Who’s surprised about that? Personal service contracts are written like that all the time. I don’t want to make a mountain of a molehill.”
Since late last year and again in February, the HART board has been discussing hiring a consultant or consultants to help HART on issues including working with federal officials in Washington, D.C., and to advise the board on how many votes are necessary to kill proposals.
Uno said the cost of Hanabusa’s contract could pay off if she generates new sources of funding.
“She’s the architect of Act 1,” Uno said. “If there was anybody in the world who could resurrect and reprieve Act 1 it would be Colleen. … We need someone to help figure out the political landscape.”