Panel to consider probe into misuse of funds

A Maui County Council committee will consider on Monday a resolution authorizing it to conduct an internal investigation into the potential misuse of county funds to demolish the Old Wailuku Post Office and conduct master planning for the Kalana O Maui campus expansion.

The council’s Policy and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee meeting will be at 9 a.m. in the 8th-floor Council Chambers of the Kalana O Maui building.

On May 31, the committee deferred action on a resolution proposed by Council Member Mike White to hire an independent special counsel to look into the matter. Panel members agreed with a suggestion from Council Member Don Guzman for the panel to investigate prior to hiring outside counsel.

“The council made a clear, unequivocal policy decision to rehabilitate the building as it existed when approving the fiscal year 2012 budget,” said Committee Chairman Riki Hokama on Monday in an announcement of the meeting. “The mayor’s proposal and the council’s decision to approve rehabilitating the Old Wailuku Post Office building were based on a property assessment, conducted by Hawaii Inspection Group Inc., that found the building to be a candidate for renovation.”

“The mayor cannot unilaterally decide to demolish the building and plan construction of new buildings because he thinks it’s a better idea,” Hokama said. “He must follow the charter’s well-established legislative process. Sweeping the problem under the rug would send the wrong message and, frankly, it would call into question the council’s integrity.”

On Monday afternoon, county spokesman Rod Antone responded by saying: “Councilman Hokama’s press release refers to a meeting that took place on May 31, which was covered thoroughly by a Maui News story the next day. We are not quite sure why he decided to issue the press release today but maybe he was upset at two Letters to the Editor that appeared in today’s Opinion section of The Maui News, saying this investigation is a waste of time. It sounds like it is responding to what members of the public said, not us.”

According to Hokama, approximately $780,000 appropriated for rehabilitation of the Old Wailuku Post Office building was expended to prepare a conceptual plan that includes construction of a multistory building and parking garage at the Old Wailuku Post Office site, renovations of the existing Kalana O Maui and Kalana Pukui buildings and construction of a new multistory building on the Kaohu Street side of the Kalana O Maui building.

“The conceptual plan seems to far exceed what the council was presented in 2011 when it appropriated money for rehabilitation of a single building,” Hokama added. “Maybe it was just a mistake, but we won’t know without a thorough investigation. And, if it was a mistake, only an investigation will reveal how to prevent similar mistakes in the future.”