Big Island Councilman Pete Hoffman… “COOPERATION SAYONORA”

Council Pete Hoffman

Councilman Pete Hoffman - "COOPERATION SAYONORA"

Guest Commentary:

Using the recent budget discussions as a background, I had hoped that the Mayor would recognize the opportunity that presented itself for establishing a cooperative relationship with the Council. Unfortunately, that didn’t occur. I’ll admit I’m wasn’t completely surprised, but I am disappointed that the administration resorts to “political theater” once again to resolve relatively minor budget changes.

We’ve heard on numerous occasions the Mayor clearly state that he seeks a new cooperation with the Council. I can’t imagine a better occasion to initiate this spirit. Consider the circumstances: the Council managed to amend the Mayor’s budget totaling $367M by less than $11M. That’s less than a 3% change. Despite all the discussion and the back and forth surrounding one or two emotional topics, that alteration is quite small. I’m sorry the Mayor didn’t call a press conference, declare victory, and thank the Council for agreeing with 97% of his budget submission. I think 97% is a good acceptance rate.

The Mayor has indicated that his veto is not a political one but rather based on the legality of the Council’s efforts to amend the budget for $5.8M. In that amendment, the Council directed the administration take the funds from the Other Current Expense Accounts that are scattered throughout the various departments. The Corporation Counsel now believes that the amended budget has “numerous legal infirmities.” I expressed my concerns regarding this amendment at the time of the budget hearings, but not on legal grounds. Personally, I would rather have had the Council specify the source of those funds, but I voted for the amendment because the past history of such Council efforts during this administration met with no success. On this occasion, I felt perhaps that the administration could identify the source of such funds itself. At no time during the budget discussion, did I or other Council members believe that what we were doing was ‘illegal’, nor did we ever hear from the Corporation Counsel that such actions might be in violation of the charter. Let’s remember, we considered this amendment on 18 May. Now a month later, the Council is informed there could be problems.

One should also remember that in our County system, the Corporation Counsel is the lawyer for both the Mayor/administration and the County Council. I have always wondered how you can serve the proverbial two masters at the same time, and this is an instance where this might lead to real/imagined difficulties. We are told that the Council should have sought legal opinion before introducing the $5.8M amendment. But since the Corporation Counsel is also supposed to be the County Council’s lawyer, one might wonder why the lawyers didn’t raise this issue to the Council Chair, at least before the budget was passed at second reading on 1 June? The Mayor comments that perhaps the Council should have asked the question first. A visitor from somewhere other than Hawaii County would be forgiven from giggling uncontrollably at this point. So much for a cooperative spirit.

Whether the Council votes to override the Mayor’s veto or not, County residents are being treated to another in a series of political dramas that tend to reflect badly on all participants. Effective government demands better leadership. I think the Council and administration had that opportunity a short time ago, but that opportunity has slipped through everyone’s fingers. Apparently, something about the budget process seems to generate less than a collaborative effort by Council and the administration. Our residents deserve better.

PETE HOFFMANN

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