WAILUKU - Mayor Alan Arakawa is proposing to eliminate the county's grant to the embattled Wailuku Main Street Association for 2013, moving the funds instead to an open-ended appropriation for small-town planning services.
Arakawa said the move would allow the county to stay out of the state Department of the Attorney General's investigation of the organization and avoid involvement in any potential future lawsuits. He said that the proposal demonstrates his administration's commitment to small-town planning, without tying funds to Wailuku Main Street in particular. Arakawa is proposing $243,000 for small-town planning in 2013, equal to the amount budgeted for the organization this year.
"It's not a statement for or against Wailuku Main Street," Arakawa said. "It's us being cautious."
The state opened an investigation into Wailuku Main Street earlier this year for possible violations of Hawaii's nonprofit laws, after former board members said that Executive Director Jocelyn Perreira denied them access to key organizational documents and financial information.
County officials also refused to release any additional payments to the organization after saying it was not providing an adequate accounting of how it was spending county funds or what it was accomplishing.
Chairman Tom Cannon has denied that the organization has withheld information from either the county or its board members.
Asked to comment on Arakawa's budget proposal, he said: "Due to the malicious actions of a few disgruntled former board members working with others, the AG asked to see our information for his internal investigation. We thank the mayor for his past support and look forward to his continuing support once we are vindicated, as we surely will be. Championing the concerns of Maui residents over the past 26 years has caused our organization to be scrutinized and attacked before. However, we continue our work to achieve Maui's economic revitalization within the context of historic and cultural preservation."
Planning Director Will Spence said that the funding decision was a prudent one.
"Main Street right now is under investigation by the attorney general's office, and we don't know where that is going to go," he said. "If after his investigation everything is fine, we can talk about a grant for them at that time. If it doesn't turn out where everything is just fine, we can still pursue supporting our small towns through other avenues."
He said the county had paid Wailuku Main Street for the first quarterly installment of its current grant but would not release any additional funding until the organization provided a complete, detailed accounting.
"This is the taxpayers' money. We're responsible for it, and they may be spending it on simply wonderful things, but we need to know what those things are," Spence said.
Maui County Council Member Don Couch said that he liked the idea of designating a pot of funds that could be allocated for small-town planning services, rather than earmarking the money for one organization that may not have provided enough accountability.
"On the face of it, at least it's more of a fair process, let's put it that way," he said. "Now it's opened up to bid, and if someone comes up with a good bid, it goes through the right procurement process.
"Typically when we do that we can set specific deliverables and reporting measures, and make that part of the bid," Couch said.
* Ilima Loomis can be reached at email@example.com.