Mayor returns budget bills unsigned, cuts, added positions in question

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Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell returned Monday the Fiscal Year 2016 legislative, operating and capital budget bills unsigned. They will become law without his approval.

“I am again grateful that the Council supported my Executive Operating Budget and Executive Capital Budget requests in large part,” said Mayor Caldwell in his message to the council. “I appreciate the hard work of the Chair of the Budget Committee to address this Administration’s concerns and to find common ground.”

However, the mayor cited the following serious concerns for not signing the budget:

  • The City Council deleted funding for the Office of Strategic Development (OSD) positions needed to address homelessness and the affordable housing crisis.

Their expertise is critically needed to create more affordable and Housing First units both to address Oahu’s homelessness problem and to help our children, young families, and kupuna afford to live here, officials said. The existing staff have already announced several innovative projects including Hale Mauliola, the Sand Island modular housing first transition center, and a new affordable senior housing development in Chinatown. They are in the middle of several more projects that are set to be announced in the coming months.

“This Administration will not be discouraged by the Council’s failure to fund those OSD positions,” Caldwell wrote. “We will, as the Council has asked us to, find monies elsewhere to fund the positions that are currently filled in OSD, and the OSD staff, notwithstanding its limited resources but with support from the rest of the Administration, will do its best to fulfill the mission of OSD.”

  • While cutting the seven OSD positions, council chair Ernie Martin added three new positions to his growing staff including a “housing coordinator” and an assistant with salaries totaling $130,000 and a “rail oversight” position with a salary of $150,000.

With these three new positions, Martin has now doubled his total staff from six when he took office in 2011 to 12 now, at a total annual cost to taxpayers of nearly one million dollars, Caldwell said.

Martin argued that he hired more staff members for the whole council, not just for his office. “That’s a careful play with numbers. My personal staff has never increased. It still has the same remaining six bodies as when I assumed office as council chair,” he said.

  • With no public vetting or advance notice, and over the objections of the outgoing longtime City Clerk and many of the experienced career staff members of the City Clerk’s office, the Council Chair created the new position of “Deputy City Clerk” and appointed a longtime political ally at a cost to taxpayers of $125,000.

This despite the fact that the Honolulu City Charter specifically authorizes the City Clerk to “appoint the necessary staff for which appropriations have been made by council.” While the Clerk’s position was filled by a lawful publicly transparent selection committee process and the highest scoring candidate got the job; the Council Chair created the new high salary “Deputy Clerk” position and appointed his ally with no public oversight.

The new Deputy Clerk position “has not been needed by that office to perform its work for over 30 years and was not requested to be established by the City Clerk,” noted Caldwell.

  • Again this year, the council earmarked grants to nonprofit entities by going outside of the Charter-mandated Grants in Aid (GIA) Fund review process.

“That process includes the use of criteria based upon which non-profits are ranked and then selected by a committee to receive GIA Funds,” Caldwell wrote. “The addition by Council of other non-profits who were not selected by the committee does not support the spirit of the impartial and transparent committee selection process. “

  • The council added an additional $75 million to the Capital Budget, going from $494.4 million to $569.1 million, despite concerns raised by the Administration regarding the need to slow down the compounding debt owed by the city.
  • The City Council does not have the legal authority to approve budgets for the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART), which by Charter is a semi-autonomous agency. Provisions relating to HART violate Article 17 of the Revised Charter of the City and County of Honolulu (2000), as amended (Charter).

Summary of budget bills returned unsigned:

Meanwhile, Caldwell signed the following bill Monday:

  • Bill 15, authorizing the issuance and sale of General Obligation Bonds and Bond Anticipation Notes

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