Wednesday, December 8, 1999

City & County of Honolulu

Yoshimura and
Hannemann agree Mufi
won’t be muzzled

By Pat Omandam


Just seven months ago, Mufi Hannemann held the seat of power as chairman of the Honolulu City Council.

Today, he finds himself out of favor with the Council majority, and heading a committee that has little impact on major city policy.

In a 6-2 decision, the Council unceremoniously removed Hannemann yesterday as head of its Transportation Committee and replaced him with Councilman Duke Bainum.

The Council action -- its last official act of 1999 -- signals the rise and fall of Hannemann, who in May 1998 unseated then-Chairman John DeSoto and pledged a new era of leadership based on patience that overlooked the shortcomings of each councilman.

Hannemann's reign lasted only a year before a new Council majority last May voted for Jon Yoshimura, the current chairman.

Hannemann now heads the Cultural Affairs Committee. The latest changes have left him and Councilwoman Donna Mercado Kim in the minority, while Councilman John Henry Felix, who did not attend yesterday's special Council meeting, is back in favor with the majority. Felix replaces Bainum as head of the Policy Committee.

In both instances of reorganization, Hannemann claimed he was ousted from power because he asked the hard questions. In May 1998, those questions focused on Mayor Jeremy Harris' proposed city budget. Yesterday, it was over Harris' $1 billion transit plan.

Yoshimura, however, said: "It was not the intent of the reorganization in May to make anyone be quiet, and that wasn't the result of that reorganization.

"And the result of this reorganization is not going to silence anyone's statements or questions. I'm sure and I'm confident that that will go on."

Nevertheless, Hannemann's hard questions on issues, which the majority considered as premature, is one reason why the Council removed him from the committee, although Yoshimura said it was not the only reason.

To make a point, Kim asked Yoshimura what his definition of a "premature question" was so none of the others will ask it and face a similar fate.

Yoshimura, an attorney, responded the phrase is self-explanatory, but his definition of a premature question is one that cannot truthfully be answered at the moment it is asked.

"We can come up with any answer to any old question, but some questions, really, are not able to be answered at this point in time," Yoshimura opined.

"Well, how will the member know unless they ask the question?" Kim countered.

Meanwhile, Hannemann said he wants answers up front because they help guide the discussion and may lead to alternative ways to get projects done. As for his new committee, he pledged to make it productive and substantive for the Council, even though it ranks at the bottom of the committee hierarchy.

"And yes, there will be times when I ask the hard questions on it," Hannemann said.

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