WAILUKU - Mayor Alan Arakawa apologized Friday for the "mistake" his administration made when it did not formally amend the county budget to show that certain funds would be used to demolish the Old Wailuku Post Office earlier this year.
"As the mayor, I take full responsibility for this situation. We were so intent on meeting with council members personally and getting their individual approval that we forgot some of the more formal aspects of the process," Arakawa said during a news conference in the mayor's lounge at the Kalana O Maui building. "Rest assured that we are taking steps to make sure not to repeat this mistake."
Arakawa's personal apology comes a week before the Maui County Council may decide to go forward with a formal investigation. Some council members contend that Arakawa may have violated the Maui County Charter by using around $1.5 million budgeted for "rehabilitation" of the building and instead using it to demolish the old post office and plan for the county's Wailuku campus expansion. The resolution calling for an investigation will be heard Friday.
Mayor Alan Arakawa apologizes Friday over the “mistake” of not formally seeking a budget amendment to provide for demolition of the Old Wailuku Post Office.
County of Maui / RYAN PIROS photo
County Council Members Mike White and Riki Hokama have introduced different resolutions to investigate the matter. Hokama's resolution would have a council committee formally investigate, and it will be heard by the full council next week.
White and Hokama did not attend Friday's news conference and did not respond to requests for comment.
Council Vice Chairman Bob Carroll and Council Member Don Couch attended the conference. Aides for some of the other council members, including White, were present.
After the event, Couch said that he was glad to hear Arakawa "echo" the apology given earlier to the council by Managing Director Keith Regan.
Couch said he could not say Friday whether he would be voting for a formal investigation into the matter, but he hoped some questions can be answered next week by the administration to help determine his vote.
Several other council members who did not attend the conference declined comment through council staff. The mayor's administration said all council members were given a copy of his remarks.
On Friday afternoon, a timeline of events regarding the Old Wailuku Post Office matter was posted on the council's blog, which can be found at www.mauicounty.gov/Blog.aspx?IID=77#item.
Although he was apologizing for the budget process mistake, Arakawa said after the news conference that he was not trying to halt any possible investigation.
"The council should go through whatever they feel comfortable with. If they want to do an investigation, they can do an investigation. That's fine. I don't have any qualms," Arakawa said.
He noted that his administration has researched the matter and has given council members all the detailed information regarding the project as well as what was discussed at council meetings.
"We're not worried that the investigation is going to uncover anything devious," Arakawa said. "I do not think anybody believes were trying to do anything devious. The reality is everything was pretty much public. The demolition of the building was right next door. We told them countless times what we were trying to do."
But White's office has previously said that council members were not aware of the funding source for the demolition until Feb. 1, which was after the demolition had started.
According to documents produced by Arakawa's office and shared with council members earlier this month, the demolition project was discussed among council members who were also notified during a council meeting when request for proposals were being sought for the demolition project.
Some council members also said they were well aware of the demolition project, but they just didn't question where the funding came from. The more than 200 pages of documents were shared with news media and with interested members of the public.
During his news conference, Arakawa said that he hoped the County Council could help the administration and the community by moving forward with the Kalana O Maui expansion project.
One aspect of the expansion is constructing a new county office building on the old post office site, which is temporarily being used as a parking lot for county employees.
Arakawa reiterated that the county is paying $150,000 in rent a month for office space for various departments. He said a delay in the expansion project would mean more rental costs for taxpayers.
To move the project forward, Arakawa noted he has already submitted budget amendments to the County Council.
The first amendment was taken up at a special full council meeting June 19. Then, the administration asked council members to skip the committee review process and amend the fiscal 2013 budget to explicitly call for the demolition of the old post office.
But council members voted 5-4 against bypassing the council's committee review, and the measure was referred to the Budget and Finance Committee.
Arakawa said the administration submitted Friday two additional budget amendments to address the post office issue.
The first amendment would clarify the source of funding for the building demolition. The second would cover the costs of the master planning work for the Kalana O Maui expansion and the design of the master plan's first phase.
To avoid a similar situation in the future, Arakawa said he has instructed his staff that all future communication between the administration and the council must be documented.
"The record leading up to each decision must be clear and concise in order to minimize misunderstandings," he said.
Arakawa said he would have dealt with the matter personally sooner, but he was attending a U.S. Conference of Mayors and was unable to appear before the council himself. Last month, Regan apologized for the administration.
"Again, I am sorry for the wasted time that this miscommunication has cost all of us. To the public I ask for your patience and to the council, I ask for your understanding," Arakawa said.
He also noted that the administration appreciates the support so far from Council Chairwoman Gladys Baisa, Carroll, Couch and Council Member Mike Victorino.
Those four council members were in favor of the full council considering a proposed budget amendment for the building's demolition on June 19. The council's majority voted for a committee review of the matter.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.