WAILUKU - A divided Maui County Council voted down a request by Mayor Alan Arakawa's administration Wednesday to expedite a bill that would amend the current county budget to explicitly call for the demolition of the Old Wailuku Post Office after the fact in an attempt to resolve a simmering dispute between the mayor and the council.
The council's 5-4 vote shot down an effort to have the measure skip the committee review process and to proceed directly to action by the full council. The bill, instead, will be referred to the council's Budget and Finance Committee.
The Arakawa administration had drafted the bill in an effort to resolve a dispute surrounding the demolition of the building that some council members believe should be formally investigated. The dispute centers on the use of about $1.5 million for the demolition of the building and for planning of a county campus expansion when the appropriation called for the "rehabilitation" of the more than 50-year-old building that stood at the corner of Wells and High streets.
Some council members say the action of the mayor's administration could be a violation of the County Charter.
But Arakawa's administration contends that the demolition project was highly publicized and not a secret. Administration officials discussed the building's situation with council members individually and told the council's Budget and Finance Committee in 2012 that requests for proposals were going out for the demolition set for the end of 2012 and into this year, according to a more-than-200-page document provided by the administration to council members and the public.
Some council members have said that they knew the demolition was going on but did not question where the funding came from. Questions by council members about the funding came after the building was demolished early this year.
The bill to amend the budget comes as a proposed formal investigation into possible misuse of funds by the administration in the building demolition makes its way to the full council. The council's Policy and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee on Monday voted to push forward a resolution to allow for the committee to conduct a formal investigation and to call administration officials and county staffers before the panel to answer questions.
The resolution is scheduled to be heard by the full council July 5.
At a special County Council meeting Wednesday, Managing Director Keith Regan asked the council to take up the bill to amend the budget and to approve it. He said the administration would continue to work with the council "to clarify our position" after the measure was approved.
By amending the budget, Regan said that it could help the county move forward with its campus expansion plans, which call for constructing a new county building on the site of the former post office. The new building will save the county nearly $2 million a year in rent, Regan said, adding that the county currently spends $150,000 a month on rent for its offices.
That amount could increase in a couple of years with lease agreements set to expire, he added.
But the council voted down the effort to expedite the measure, 5-4. Those voting against bringing the measure directly to the full council were Stacy Crivello, Elle Cochran, Riki Hokama, Mike White and Don Guzman. Those voting to bring the bill directly to the full council were Don Couch, Robert Carroll, Gladys Baisa and Mike Victorino, who said he was doing so with "reservations."
Normally, bills introduced to the council are vetted through a committee first, but Arakawa's administration asked for its bill to be considered for discussion and possibly a vote before the full council Wednesday to allow for enough time for the council to pass the bill in two separate readings before the end of the current fiscal year June 30.
Moving a measure directly to the council can occur, especially if needed to meet pressing deadlines.
Guzman asked county Budget Director Sandy Baz if there would be any ramifications if the amendment were passed at a later time. Baz said that the administration decided to push forward the bill now to make the changes in the current-year budget - when the demolition took place.
He added that amendments have been made to budgets after the year has concluded.
"I want this building. I want to move forward," Guzman said. But "I want to make sure this is done procedurally correct."
White called the bill "inappropriate and unnecessary," saying the budget amendment could come later. If the bill were to be passed now, White said he's not sure the council would receive the full cooperation of the administration in a possible investigation.
Hokama asked First Deputy Corporation Counsel Ed Kushi Jr. whether, since the bill cleared a review by county attorneys, that could that be interpreted as correcting a "violation?"
"We haven't reached that point yet," Kushi said, noting the possible investigation by the council, which could turn up more details.
Hokama said: "No one wants to take responsibility and be accountable for their actions."
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at email@example.com.