Letters to the Editor

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Saturday, October 9, 2004

Mayor should disclose his travel plans

We recognize that the mayor of Honolulu may need to occasionally travel outside of Hawaii. In 2004, however, Mayor Jeremy Harris has taken traveling to new lengths. During the past few months, the mayor has not only taken trips to domestic destinations like South Carolina, Vermont and New York, but also to foreign countries, including Australia, Chile, China, Saipan and even Sweden. Indeed, so far this year the number of working days Harris spent outside of Honolulu nearly matches the number of days he has actually spent in the state.

Mayor Harris' extensive travel raises serious concerns and has created issues over the operation of city government. Earlier this summer, Harris attempted to veto a bill providing tax relief to farmers while he was away in Boston, something that was clearly prohibited by the City Charter. Harris, however, never notified the City Council that he would be out of the state -- council members learned of his absence from the media. When the president of the United States or the governor of Hawaii leaves the state and power is transferred to the vice president or the lieutenant governor, both of whom are elected officials, they provide notice to their respective legislative branches. It is not unreasonable to ask the mayor to provide similar notice to the City Council when he goes out of state and relinquishes his duties and responsibilities to the managing director, an un-elected official.

Furthermore, the fact that the mayor has accepted gifts of expensive trips without disclosing the identity of the individuals or organizations that have given him those gifts raises serious ethical concerns. Special interest groups often seek to influence government decision-making by making gifts to elected officials. While we do not disagree with the mayor's right to accept gifts of travel, we believe that his acceptance of such gifts should be disclosed to the public. In government, open, honest disclosure is the law. This is why the City Council and city departments disclose who they accept gifts of travel from and why the mayor should, too. Disclosure is the law, and the mayor should obey the law.

With so many major problems facing Honolulu, it is unfortunate that the frequent and extensive worldwide travel by Mayor Harris is an issue. We hope that the mayor fully discloses where he has traveled in 2004, when he took those trips, how much those trips cost and who paid for those trips. The mayor is accountable to the people who elected him, and those people have a right to know.

Charles K. Djou
Ann Kobayashi
Honolulu City Council members


Mayor's travel shouldn't be an issue

Regarding the Star-Bulletin's Oct. 4 editorial on the mayor's travel schedule: Mayor Harris has been gone around 62 days out of 270 so far this year ... not 100 days, as City Councilman Charles Djou is saying. For someone who says he lacks information on the mayor's travel, I'm surprised you printed that number without asking him how he arrived at it.

We've also said that the mayor should be allowed some vacation days. He tries to fly out late on a Friday and come back Monday night, when possible.

Mayor Harris remains the mayor whether he's in town or not and keeps in contact with Managing Director Ben Lee several times each day. The City Charter clearly establishes the line of authority when the mayor is away (managing director and then Budget and Finance director). No one needs to fret that no one is in charge.

Council members are flexing their muscle ... trying to tip the balance of power when the new mayor comes in. They are already looking around for more office space at City Hall that they can take from administration as they have expanded their staff to such a degree. This comes from a legislative budget that has no checks and balances. The Harris administration has required its nonpublic safety departments to keep their budgets at the previous year's level for many years. Not so for the Council members. They keep expanding.

Your editorial says that the mayor's trips should not be financed by people or companies that have an interest in city decisions. I believe the Council has accepted three trips to be paid for by some of the companies that want to get a contract to move our trash to their landfills in Idaho or Washington. Shouldn't your editorial point be addressed to the Council also?

You mentioned that the relationship between the Council and mayor has deteriorated. That's not coming from us, but it sure smarts to hear Rod Tam say Mayor Harris is moving to the mainland as soon as his term is over because he "no longer cares about us" or to hear Djou say that the mayor's trips are just "job hunting."

We should be proud that Honolulu is getting exposure on the world stage. Mayor Harris' work in sustainability, economic development and other areas is well known and cities are asking him to share how he has done certain things. The more people know about Honolulu, the better it will be for Hawaii from a tourism standpoint.

It seems very unfair to complain about Mayor Harris' travel when we should be proud to see Honolulu receiving awards or being looked upon as a city that others can learn from.

Carol L. Costa
Director, City Department of Customer Services




Planting an idea

The first and last thing visitors see as they encounter Hawaii -- other than security personnel instructing them to take off their shoes -- is the elevated freeway by Honolulu's airport. Accordingly, when it was built, it was designed to be attractive, including a meandering garden running down the center of the lower level, and, up top, set between the elevated concourses, large planter boxes. The idea was to plant wonderful hanging gardens that would delight visitor and resident alike, and for a while, they did.

But the state Department of Transportation is focused these days on potholes, not on making the roads look pretty. The elevated gardens have become choked with weeds and debris.

So fire up those brain cells. What other use could these midair garden plots be used for? Thematic displays? Lei stands? Minimum-security prisons? Foosball diamonds? Storage for giant downtown Christmas ornaments? Headquarters for our newly reduced National Guard? A place for all the dirt from Castle Junction? Instead of offshore gambling, elevated gambling?

Send us your ideas about what should be done with these highly visible, weed-racked lots.

E-mail your ideas and solutions -- please include your name and address -- by Oct. 20 to: brainstorm@starbulletin.com

Or fax to:
c/o Nancy Christenson

Or mail them to:
c/o Nancy Christenson
500 Ala Moana
7 Waterfront Plaza
Suite 210
Honolulu, Hawaii 96813



How to write us

The Star-Bulletin welcomes letters that are crisp and to the point (150 to 200 words). The Star-Bulletin reserves the right to edit letters for clarity and length. Please direct comments to the issues; personal attacks will not be published. Letters must be signed and include a daytime telephone number.

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Mail: Letters to the Editor, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 7 Waterfront Plaza, 500 Ala Moana, Suite 210, Honolulu, HI 96813

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