The Chamber View: Let’s get it done and move on

When it comes to the demolition of the Old Wailuku Post Office, a mistake was made, nobody disputes that. A process was not followed and that is important to raise, air and fix. However, the way the issue is being handled has people questioning political motivations and wondering how much this will ultimately cost the people of Maui.

In the June 17 Policy and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee hearing, many council members acknowledged that they saw no ill intent in the demolition and appreciated the administration’s apology. Several noted that they, too, could have questioned things earlier on but did not as they were unaware of any concerns.

We were there offering testimony that day as the committee discussed two resolutions:

* To authorize the employment of special counsel, not to exceed $20,000, to advise and represent the council regarding the potential misuse of county funds appropriated for rehabilitation of the Old Wailuku Post Office.

* To authorize the Policy and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee to conduct a formal investigation into the potential misuse of county funds appropriated for rehabilitation of the Old Wailuku Post Office.

We were there because:

* This project has long been publicly discussed, and no concerns were raised until after the building came down.

* The administration publicly acknowledged that there was a communication disconnect and apologized.

* We want to see the cost of government go down, not up. The matter is vetted, and we felt any investigation should be done internally to save costs, versus authorizing the expenditure of $20,000 to hire special counsel (seen as the tip of the iceberg). Therefore, we supported the second resolution, not the first.

The charter must be followed, and it is important to look at procedures to evaluate what should have been done differently. This should include, in addition to reviewing the administration’s actions, the many times this project was discussed with council members and the community and when council members might have raised concerns knowing what they authorized and the intent behind their actions.

Two bills proposed by the administration to fix the situation and to move forward with the project were heard by the council at a special council meeting June 19, where we testified again. We recommended approval to move the project forward, while still allowing for a process investigation.

The council chose to forego the fixes presented and instead punt those bills to the Budget and Finance Committee for review. Since the issues were not dealt with before the end of the fiscal year, which is why they were on the special council meeting agenda, they have to be redone in this fiscal year.

The County Council then voted to move forward with a formal investigation of the rehabilitation of the Old Wailuku Post Office in a 5-3 vote (with Council Member Don Guzman excused and Chairwoman Gladys Baisa, Vice Chairman Robert Carroll and Council Member Don Couch voting against it) on July 5. The scope of this investigation is currently unclear and will be decided by the Policy and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee.

What this actually cost Maui taxpayers is anyone’s guess. If special counsel is hired, we suspect far more than $20,000. Even if it is an internal investigation by a council committee, any county employee to questioned will likely be entitled to some form of legal representation. In addition, project delays postpone occupancy, which means taxpayers are looking at a reported $150,000 per month in rent for office space on offices that would have been relocated into the new building sooner. Further, delays in construction can raise the price of construction. And, let us not forget the money that has and continues to be spent on added hearings and staff time.

It is time to focus on the process and make necessary modifications to prevent this going forward, save money where possible, and get on with other important county matters.

* Pamela Tumpap is president of the Maui Chamber of Commerce.