By B.J. Reyes
Anyone who switched off the City Council Budget Committee on Monday after a reasonable hour — the meeting adjourned at 11:09 p.m. and conflicted with the “24” season finale, not to mention “Two and a Half Men” — missed some real drama.
Hanging in the balance was $125,000 being sought by the city Office of Economic Development, the bulk of which ($100,000) was to be used by Mayor Mufi Hannemann for a business trip to the West Coast with the other county mayors to drum up tourism to Hawaii. The remainder was to foster sister-city relations with mainland cities, testified OED Director Ann Chung.
Earlier in the day (before noon), the committee had voted against increasing the OED’s budget, with Councilman Gary Okino questioning whether the office was even needed. Councilman Charles Djou successfully had argued to keep the office funded at its current level ($459,000, according to Chung) noting that every other agency in city government was taking some sort of financial hit.
Roughly 12 hours later, sometime after 10 p.m., Chung returned to the Budget Committee hearing along with city Managing Director Kirk Caldwell, to ask for the committee’s reconsideration. It seemed Chung, in her earlier testimony, had forgotten to mention that the mayor already had secured $100,000 in private matching funds from a local unnamed bank for the trip and would seek additional private sector money once the Council demonstrated its commitment. She noted that the other counties also were committing taxpayer dollars — more than what Honolulu was seeking — to the four mayors’ mainland trip.
After some cajoling, more debate on whether the trip was needed and even accusations that the administration was using scare tactics to try and justify the expense, Budget Chairman Nestor Garcia agreed to increase the OED budget by $100,000 with the proviso that none of the money shall be encumbered or disbursed until the Council has been provided proof that the matching funds are there.
The vote on the increase was two in favor (Garcia and Okino) and two opposed (Djou and Duke Bainum) leaving Council Chairman Todd Apo to break the tie. Apo went along with Garcia’s recommendation, but said he had “grave concerns” about doing so and he expected more communication between the administration and the Council as the June 10 budget deadline approaches.
Djou and Bainum expressed outrage, noting that the OED was the only city government agency to see an increase in its budget, with the $100,000 amounting to a 22 percent jump. Both agreed to pass the budget bill, but noted their disagreement.
“The last $100,000 was absolutely disgusting,” Djou said.
Bainum said the mayors’ promotional trip was a nice idea, but noted there are state agencies devoted to drumming up tourism for the state and he would rather see the money spent to offset some of the tax and fee hikes that were being passed by the Council.
Caldwell called their statements nothing more than “grandstanding.”