WAILUKU - A Maui County Council committee Tuesday advanced bills to fund the design of a new building to replace the old Wailuku Post Office that was demolished in a controversial process earlier this year.
The Budget and Finance Committee recommended approval of $1.5 million in general obligation bonds for a first phase Kalana O Maui campus expansion design. The project only includes the replacement of the old Wailuku Post Office, which is a portion of the overall county campus expansion plan.
Although the council's Policy and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee continues to investigate the county administration's potential misuse of county funds for the demolition, the Budget and Finance Committee recommended approving the design funding. There are provisions in the funding bills saying that the council's actions do not mean it is ratifying any or all of the county administration's prior acts and shall not affect the council's investigation.
"We are still trying to move ahead with this expansion on the corner of Wells and High Street," said Council Member Mike Victorino, speaking of the old post office site. "We want to see the expansion completed."
But he said the vote to recommend approval of the design funds does not mean the council will abandon its investigation.
"We will get to the bottom to the challenge of the demolition," he added.
In other matters, as recommended by Budget and Finance Committee Chairman Mike White, the committee deferred action on obtaining a new appraisal for approximately 186 acres at Launiupoko. The land will be used for open space and county coastline parks.
The land is being offered by a private landowner for $13 million, but White has contended that the appraisal given to the council is "fundamentally flawed" because assumptions in the study were dictated by the administration instead of using best practices for appraisals.
The committee is awaiting an answer from appraiser Ted Yamamura on whether he will conduct a reappraisal of the land.
During Tuesday's meeting, council members spent at least an hour in executive session with Yamamura.
The executive session was called after Yamamura expressed concerns over publicly sharing information about a draft appraisal that had only been shared with the county administration and not the public or the full council. White cited confidentiality concerns as a reason for the closed session.
Although the landowner's representatives have said that the land price is firm at $13 million and set a Dec. 31 deadline for the county to take action, White said Tuesday that the landowners had previously extended the deadline, and he believed they could do so again if new appraisals were done.
But Makila Land Co. project manager Heidi Bigelow said after the meeting: "At this point, the partners are unwilling to extend (the deadline) based on our last partner meeting."
She added that the matter has been in committee for almost a year with no action.
In the old Wailuku Post Office matter, the only member to vote against authorizing bonds for the design work was Committee Vice Chairman Riki Hokama who said he wanted to wait.
But Budget Director Sandy Baz said the bond funding had to be approved. Otherwise, the budget would not be balanced, he said.
In addition, Hokama said he wanted to see a resolution accompany the design funding bills.
The resolution would further state the council's stance that its actions do not ratify those of the administration regarding the demolition funding.
White agreed and said he would introduce a subsequent resolution at an upcoming meeting.
At the beginning of the meeting, White said that "balance needs to be struck" in the matter where an investigation can proceed as well as the expansion project.
"I'm very excited to see some movement here," said Council Chairwoman Gladys Baisa. "This bifurcation is very clear to me."
The Council's Policy and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee is awaiting to see if the new County Auditor Lance Taguchi will place the old Wailuku Post Office on his list of potential audits for the rest of the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.
Taguchi said earlier this month he will be assembling his plan of audits by early January at the latest.
The council would like an audit regarding the demolition of the old post office, even as Mayor Alan Arakawa and his administration have conceded and apologized for using funds earmarked for the rehabilitation of the building for its demolition and planning for a new county campus. The administration said it should have amended the budget request to reflect the building's demolition, although council members were all aware of what was planned.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.