In light of a looming investigation over the Old Wailuku Post Office demolition, Mayor Alan Arakawa has proposed directives that limit communication between council members and county department heads that he admits could bring the county to "a grinding halt."
"Please note this policy is not something that I wanted to issue. It has the potential to bring county activity to a grinding halt," Arakawa said in a letter sent to council Vice Chairman Robert Carroll late Wednesday afternoon.
The mayor issued the directives - which include communications only in writing and in advance - in a letter to the council Monday, but he has since postponed the action "to try and temper this directive to something that will be as least disruptive as possible," he said in Wednesday's letter.
The mayor said he offered the new administration-council communication policies because of "a loss of confidence" in some departments, stemming from the looming Old Wailuku Post Office investigation.
The council has authorized an investigation into the use of county funds to demolish the old federal building that were originally earmarked for its restoration.
Arakawa, who has publicly admitted that an error was made and apologized for the mistake, said that some department heads have expressed concerns about making proper decisions in light of the Old Wailuku Post Office investigation. He cited some examples.
Maui High School had contacted the county for help with grading one of its fields, but the request was denied by the Public Works Department because technically its equipment is not intended for that use. Department officials were concerned that, like the post office demolition, granting the use of the equipment could be called into question by the council.
Road maintenance crews had used leftover materials from a job to improve nearby roads. But because of the investigation, "they (department heads) do not feel empowered to make that decision because that extra road improvement work technically was not part of the original scope of the project," Arakawa said in Wednesday's letter.
Emergency actions, such as Public Works using its tankers to help firefighters battle blazes, including the recent compost fire at the Central Maui Landfill, could come into question as well, he said.
"In order to ensure clear directives from our council, we felt documenting communication would be the best option." Arakawa said in his letter to Carroll. "Requests and inquiries could then be verified and a paper trail created. This would help to prevent any future miscommunication regarding county projects and the council's understanding of them."
Arakawa informed council members of his directives in a letter to the council Monday. The policy called for no direct communication on county business between council employees and administrative staff and its civil service employees, unless authorized by the mayor or managing director "to avoid transmitting partial or incorrect information."
On Tuesday, Carroll responded to Arakawa's initial letter and asked that the directives be suspended - to which both sides have agreed - in order to work out legal and practical concerns. Carroll said in his letter that the council will summarize its concerns and submit them to the mayor by July 26.
In a phone interview Wednesday afternoon before the mayor's latest letter was released, Carroll said that council members were working with its council services team, which includes attorneys, to look over the mayor's directives.
"We certainly don't want either us or the administration . . . to be in violation (of any law)," he said.
Carroll pointed out that the mayor's directives include having council members submitting questions to administration officials - two weeks in advance - of meetings councilors may want them to attend. Detailed questions requiring an "in-depth" response will require a longer lead time.
Carroll declined to comment or speculate on what could result from the directives.
"We can always work with the administration to tweak it," Carroll said. "I don't think nobody intends to slow things up or do anything like that."
Arakawa said the same in his letter Wednesday. He would like to work with council staff and consider other options or alternative solutions they may have to this problem.
"We have always been willing to talk, and we look forward to going back to the days when both the administrative and legislative branch could work together to move our community forward," Arakawa said.
The council is preparing to investigate Arakawa's administration for its use of $1.5 million marked for the "rehabilitation" of the Old Wailuku Post Office, which instead was used to demolish the building and to plan for the county's expanded campus.
The administration has produced documents it says show that all council members were aware of the demolition, that administration officials had one-on-one meetings with council members on the plans for the building and that the demolition of the building, across Wells Street from the county building, could not have been missed.
Arakawa and Managing Director Keith Regan both have apologized for the "mistake." Arakawa said his administration did not formally amend the county budget to show that the funds would be used to demolish the building earlier this year.
"Rest assured that we are taking steps to make sure not to repeat this mistake," Arakawa said in making his apology June 28.
Still, some council members contend that Arakawa may have violated the Maui County Charter by using the money for the demolition.
The property, which the administration would like to use for an office building, is currently a temporary parking lot for county employees.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.