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Honolulu Star Bulletin

By Gordon Y.K. Pang

HONOLULU — City Council members are upset over the refusal by Mayor Jeremy Harris’ administration to discuss allegations that city officials have mismanaged construction at Central Oahu Regional Park.

Kelly Saunders, a project manager with the Department of Design and construction, made the allegations of fraud and waste in interviews with KITV-4 last month.

An investigation by the Star-Bulletin also shows that the project has incurred high cost overruns.

Rae Loui, the city’s director of design and construction, said attorneys with the corporation counsel’s office have told her not to answer any questions pertaining to “design, construction and any of the other allegations posed by Ms. Saunders” because they are being investigated.

Deputy Corporation Counsel Paul Tsukiyama said that while there is no gag order, questioning by the Council could frustrate an ongoing investigation into personnel matters.

“I’m really baffled as to why the administration seems to be stonewalling,” Councilman Duke Bainum said. “This has nothing to do with personnel matters.”

City attorneys, Bainum said, this week tried to dissuade him and colleagues from having Saunders speak at yesterday’s meeting. But both prosecutors and police investigators assured him they had no problem with the Council inquiring about management and construction issues, he said.

“The last time I heard this was the Ewa Villages scandal,” Bainum said of the administration’s silence. “That’s a bad habit to repeat.”

Councilman John Henry Felix asked Tsukiyama if the administration were willing to discuss the matter behind closed doors. Tsukiyama said he did not believe the intended purpose would fall into the allowable reasons for holding an executive session.

Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi called the administration’s actions “very surprising, very disappointing.”

Bainum later said he is considering drawing up a resolution invoking the Council’s subpoena and investigative powers to get the administration to discuss the issue.

Saunders did not speak, but Thomas Grande, her attorney, said that she was removed from her position and then suspended “when her complaints about improper workmanship at the Central Oahu Regional Park were ignored.”

Records examined by the Star-Bulletin show that both consultant and construction contracts tied to Central Oahu Regional Park have incurred serious overruns:

  • A consultant contract with engineering firm SSFM International was amended three times and is now up to more than $2.5 million from the original $932.675 amount.
  • A separate consultant contract with Walters, Kimura, Motoda Inc., a landscape architecture firm, has risen to $1.95 million after three change orders from the initial $512,425.
  • Construction on Phase 1 of the project, awarded to Dick Pacific Construction and opened last year, jumped to $20.1 million, a nearly 22.7 percent increase.