Council Questions Park Spending

 

By Robbie Dingeman, Advertiser City Hall Writer

HONOLULU — City Council members yesterday accused Harris administration officials of “stonewalling” when they refused to respond to allegations that hundreds of thousands of dollars have been wasted in building the new Central Oahu Regional Park.

Project manager Kelly Saunders, who raised the mismanagement issue, went to Honolulu Hale yesterday to attend a special City Council budget/zoning committee meeting on the allegations. Her lawyer, Thomas Grande, summed up the concerns of Saunders, who was removed from her post as a contract hire project manager for the ambitious new park.

“Ms. Saunders was told she was suspended by her superiors when her complaints about improper workmanship at the Central Oahu Regional Park were ignored,” Grande said. He said that Saunders had brought to light “what she reasonably believed to be waste of hundreds of thousands or possibly millions of dollars in taxpayers’ funds.”

Grande said Saunders pointed to “potential wasteful misuse of government funds by the design, management and construction professionals who were awarded various government contracts.”

Council members then turned to Rae Loui, director of the Department of Design and Construction. But Loui said she had been advised by city attorneys to not answer questions.

That answers left Council Zoning Chairman Duke Bainum shaking his head.

“I’m really baffled as to why the administration seems to be stonewalling very simple questions regarding the allegations that this project has had multiple change orders, that it went over $4 million budget, that construction was begun without building permits and the fact that things were constructed without final plans, ” Bainum said.

Bainum said he had consulted the city prosecutor’s office and the police. “They have assured me that we can move forward into our inquiry into the management and construction of Central Oahu Regional Park,” Bainum said.

But Deputy Corporation Counsel Paul Tsukiyama said the questions could relate to personnel matters and amount to “frustration of a legitimate government function.”

Bainum said that he doesn’t understand why the administration refuses to answer. Bainum: “The only problem seems to be the administration doesn’t want to talk about it.”

Tsukiyama: “Not at this moment.”

Bainum: “The last time I heard this was the ‘Ewa Villages scandal and they said everything was under investigation and they weren’t going to talk about things. That’s a bad habit to repeat.”

He was referring to a scandal that emerged in the 1990s, when then-city housing official Michael Kahapea and others stole at least $5.8 million in city money used for moving businesses as part of the city’s revitalization of plantation-era homes at ‘Ewa Villages. Kahapea created phony invoices for moves that never happened, and got kickbacks from companies that received the money. Kahapea is serving a 50-year sentence.

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