Former U.S. Rep. and state Sen. Colleen Hanabusa was unanimously elected as the new chairwoman of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation board of directors today. However, the timing of the vote elicited questions of transparency from some board members.
Hanabusa was appointed to the board by Mayor Rick Blangiardi, and her term began at the beginning of the month.
This is Hanabusa’s second time on the HART board. She served from June 2015 to October 2016 and was chairwoman from May to October 2016.
She also has served in the U.S. House of Representatives for Hawaii’s first district and was a longtime state senator, including a stint as Senate president.
She accepted her nomination to the HART board, an unpaid position, after rejecting a controversial $924,000 consulting contract with the city’s rail project.
Board member and acting chairman Hoyt Zia applauded Hanabusa’s qualifications to be the next HART chairwoman.
“We need the best leadership we can muster,” he said. “We have among our membership a person who has not only served and been involved in every level of government … but also previously served as chair of this board in a similarly challenging period of time.”
Hanabusa replaces Toby Martyn, who resigned from the HART board this month for “personal reasons.”
While the board voted unanimously to approve Hanabusa as HART board chairwoman and board member Dean Hazama as vice chairman, transparency was a key point of discussion throughout the Friday meeting.
The board is facing two vacancies. Board member Joseph Uno’s term expired on June 30. The Honolulu City Council is expected to vote on his replacement, Anthony Aalto, a documentarian, at the next full meeting on Aug. 11.
The HART board members are also tasked with replacing Martyn’s now vacant seat.
Board member Kika Bukoski thought the vote to elect the new chairperson should be delayed. However, the only board member that supported the motion was Uno.
“Nominating the chair when we could likely have two brand-new members on board in a month, or less than a month, I think is premature,” Bukoski said.
“Let’s defer this to allow these other two potentially new members to come on and have a say in who their leadership is going to be.”
Another point of contention during the meeting was beginning the process of nominating a person to fill the vacant seat on the board.
The HART board has nine voting members. Three are nominated by the mayor, three are nominated by the City Council, one is the state Department of Transportation director, another is the city Department of Transportation services director, and the ninth member is selected by the other eight. There are six other nonvoting members who serve on the board.
One of the first steps to nominating a new member is creating a permitted interaction group of up to five board members to investigate and recommend candidates to the rest of the board. The permitted interaction group meetings are closed to the public, and while other board members can join the discussion, they cannot vote on any decisions.
Uno was concerned about issues of transparency, especially following an investigation from the state’s Office of Information Practices into members Zia, Lynn McCrory and former member Martyn over emails considering hiring Hanabusa for the HART consulting position.
“You all are viewed by some people, perhaps in the media, as being the inside cabal that’s running the show in the backroom — having meetings that cloud the Sunshine Law,” he said.
“Not allowing anybody else access to the nominating process of a board member that’s supposed to be selected by the entire board, I think it sends a bad message.”
Other board members emphasized the need for privacy during the nominating process to protect personal information from applicants.
Bukoski, McCrory, Hazama and Jade Butay were selected to be on the permitted interaction group. Uno was the only vote against the measure.
Friday was likely Uno’s final board meeting. Even if the City Council does not approve Aalto’s nomination, Council members have not expressed interest in reappointing Uno to his seat.
“I just want to leave with the comment and hope that people can just tell the truth,” Uno said.
“Don’t just go along with things. And I think this specifically goes to the staff, have good intentions.”
In response, Zia rejected Uno’s previous comments about being part of a “cabal”.
“The implication that we are lacking integrity and honesty in how we conduct business, I strongly protest and that’s not true whatsoever,” he said as he adjourned the meeting.
The next HART board meeting is scheduled for Aug. 19.