Hawaii County Council Coup… A Payback From the Past?

How quickly we forget some things.

From the February 23, 2007 West Hawaii Today:

What appeared to be a political game orchestrated by the Hawaii County Council minority during Thursday’s regular meeting has apparently cost Big Island taxpayers $186,000.

Despite having a full slate of agenda items, many of which were bills that required two-thirds of favorable votes from the nine-member council to pass, four council members, including Puna’s Emily Naeole and Hilo’s J. Yoshimoto, Stacy Higa and Donald Ikeda, left the meeting early.

Yoshimoto later said he left to attend another meeting in Hilo, but did not know the plans of other council members. He also did not believe early departures will be a recurring problem.

Yoshimoto said Thursday’s meeting was originally scheduled to start in morning, but was recently changed by Chairman Pete Hoffmann to 1:30 p.m. so Hoffmann could attend a speech at noon by Mayor Harry Kim.

The foursome’s premature departure prompted remaining council members — Hoffmann, Angel Pilago of North Kona, Bob Jacobson of South Hawaii, Brenda Ford of South Kona andDominic Yagong of Hamakua — to vote to postpone taking action on a number of agenda items.

The most significant postponement was Bill 22, which was slated for its final reading. The bill, if approved, would have allowed the county to bond $2 million for a $9.3 million project to build a solid waste reload facility near Hilo’s existing solid waste transfer station.

The project has been in the works for years, according to Pilago and Hoffmann, and prior delays have already caused its cost to inflate.

Early in the meeting when all council members were present, Mayor Harry Kim reported that if Bill 22 weren’t approved by the council in 24 hours, Isemoto Construction, the firm slated to build the facility, would be forced to increase the cost by another $186,000.

Not long after Kim’s revelation, Naeole, Yoshimoto and Higa excused themselves from the meeting. Ikeda stayed a little longer, and was there to vote on a handful of resolutions early in the meeting, but then he left too.

Bills considered capital improvement budget items, such as Bill 22, require at least two-thirds of the council to vote in favor of them to pass.

Pilago categorized the absence of his four peers as “unfortunate.”

“I would think they should be here,” he said.

In regard to the perception that council members left to make a political statement, Yoshimoto said, “It’s amazing how things can get blown out of proportion.”

Some of the other bills postponed because of the apparent political game include a $1 million project to build a new emergency shelter in West Hawaii and a $10 million project to build a connector road from Laiopua to Kealakehe schools. The bills for those projects are still in their first readings.

Pilago said the road project is very important and urged residents affected by the delay in the project to contact the excused council members “and urge them to vote.”

Yagong said near the end of the meeting that he wants to give the excused council members the benefit of doubt, and was hopeful all four had legitimate reasons for leaving early.

Ikeda, before leaving the meeting, was the lone council member to vote in favor of a resolution to encourage the county’s administration to be “fiscally prudent” in constructing a West Hawaii Civic Center by not including an amphitheater, museum and play area. Ford, Hoffmann, Pilago, Yagong and Jacobson voted against the resolution.

The council recently approved moving forward with the $58 million civic center project, but Ikeda, who introduced the “fiscally prudent” resolution, believes the project to be too extravagant.

He indicated before the vote that if residents on the west side of the island believe the civic center is more important than other projects, then he would have to vote against things such as the Laiopua connector road project.

Yagong took offense to Ikeda’s remarks, stating such comments are the reason there’s a rift between the west and east sides of Big Island.

In an interview during a break in the meeting, Yagong said he believes Ikeda has been angry since January, when the council majority that favored the east side of the island where Ikeda resides became the council minority.

“(Ikeda) reminds me of a spoiled brat kid that got his toy taken away, and now he’s in the middle of the room pouting, kicking and screaming,” Yagong said. “It’s unfortunate because we don’t want to look at this as east and west. We (the majority) look at it as the entire island. This is just not what ‘aloha’ is all about. I hope (Ikeda) outgrows it soon.”

Ikeda, Naeole, Yoshimoto and Higa were unavailable for comment after the meeting.

In another matter, the council, under the communications portion of the agenda that took place early in the meeting, voted 7-2 against nominating Ross Wilson Jr., of public relations firm Current Events, to the county Water Board.

A majority of council members believe Wilson isn’t the most qualified applicant for the position and there would be a conflict of interest if he was appointed. The two council members who voted in favor of the appointment were Higa and Ikeda.

And let’s not forget the following day’s coverage by the Hawaii Tribune Herald:

Three County Council members on Friday called for Kohala Councilman Pete Hoffmann’s removal as chairman due to his allegedly disrespectful leadership.

Upset over Hoffmann’s rescheduling of Thursday’s council meeting in Keauhou, Hilo lawmakers Stacy Higa and J Yoshimoto joined Puna Councilwoman Emily Naeole in holding a press conference to air their criticisms. The three said they wanted to “set the record straight” and will appear next week on Hilo radio shows.

The trio said they want Hoffmann removed from the leadership post he was elected to when lawmakers formed a new West Hawaii-based majority immediately following the council’s Dec. 4 inauguration.

Naeole said she’ll even ask for divine intervention to help oust Hoffmann.

“I’m going to be seeking the Lord for help me to make some changes in our leadership,” she said. “It’s only been like two months, or maybe three months down the road, and we (are) all uncomfortable already. That’s not good.”

What has the three fuming — they claimed Hilo Councilman Donald Ikeda is also upset but was unable to join them Friday — is a series of executive decisions Hoffmann has made.

First, he pushed back the starting time of Thursday’s meeting to 1:30 p.m. from the announced and typical 9 a.m. starting time. That prompted Higa, Yoshimoto and Naeole to leave the meeting early to fulfill other obligations, opening them up to criticism. Ikeda also left long before the meeting ended.

But all members received 10 days’ advanced notice, in writing, of the timing change.

Hoffmann said he rescheduled the meeting because some lawmakers asked to attend Thursday morning’s dedication of an addition to Puuhonua o Honaunau, while he wanted to hear Mayor Harry Kim’s luncheon speech on the state of Hawaii County.

Higa, Yoshimoto and Naeole complained that they had to wait more than four hours from when a Thursday morning committee meeting ended until the afternoon council meeting. Far from their offices, the trio was unable to work, Higa said.

Hoffmann said he thought they might use the recess to go hear Kim’s noontime speech.

“They had plenty of time to let me know,” Hoffmann said of his colleagues’ early departures.

Hoffmann said he learned the three councilors intended to leave Thursday’s meeting early just 24 hours, or less, ahead of time. Had he learned about their plans sooner, Hoffmann said he “probably would have done something different,” but is not sure what that would have been.

Yoshimoto and Naeole attended a roadways meeting Thursday evening in Keaau, while Higa coached a youth basketball game in Hilo.

“If I was asked to stay at the council meeting, I would have,” Higa said. Yoshimoto and Naeole also said they could have had a replacement appear on their behalf at the Keaau meeting.

The three also complained that Hoffmann refused to move up legislation so they could vote on the measures before departing.

“It’s a common courtesy that wasn’t extended to us, and that’s really disappointing,” said Yoshimoto, whose tax-relief measure was postponed because of his absence.

Kim’s testimony on his $2 million request for a planned Hilo trash-sorting facility was heard ahead of schedule.

“We never voted out of sequence. I don’t like doing that if you can avoid it,” Hoffmann said. “We weren’t trying to take things out of context on the agenda simply because people weren’t going to be there. I wasn’t going to do that because I don’t want to establish a precedent.”

With just five members present and six needed to approve Kim’s requested budget amendment, the measure was deferred. But the delay, according to the contractor, will increase the project’s cost by $186,000.

That revelation prompted criticism and a West Hawaii Today story that said Higa, Naeole, Yoshimoto and Ikeda were to blame.

That’s a “false statement,” Higa said, noting there was no certainty Kim’s funding request was going to pass.

“I don’t like false accusations going out about myself,” Naeole said. “I feel like I’ve been taken advantage of, and I don’t appreciate that.”

Hoffmann agreed with Higa that the project’s approval is not a given.

“It would be unfair to say the absence of the people is the reason we’re going to pay more money,” Hoffmann said, adding he was “amazed” at learning Thursday the issue had to be decided then or the price would jump.

Finally, Higa, Yoshimoto and Naeole claimed although Hoffmann knew why they left, he did not defend their early departure when fellow lawmakers questioned why they were not present.

“It kind of upset me, some of the things that were said,” said Higa, who was council chairman prior to Hoffmann.

Hoffmann said he’ll review the council’s rules on absences and, in the future, will state why members are not present.

Naeole said she regrets supporting Hoffmann as chairman and now wants Higa returned to that role.

“I don’t trust already because I wen get sting,” she said. “The west side is actually pushing us away. It’s a big power trip.”

Higa said he won’t lobby for the extra vote he needs to become chairman.

“If and when the numbers do change, then we’ll deal with it,” Higa said when asked about any reorganization effort.

Of course their was the whole County Investigation into the Sunshine Laws previously about this.


2 Responses

  1. Oh boy, good memory Damon.

  2. “I had other priorities.” (Dick Cheney on why he dodged the draft in the 1960’s).

    Clearly, Council members who cannot reschedule other engagements 10 days in advance to be able to accommodate a few hours change in Council meeting time have “other priorities.”

    Thanks, Damon.

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