Harris sues Council
over parking fee rollback
At issue is whether the
fee hike repeal created
an unbalanced budget
Mayor Jeremy Harris' administration is going to court to ask a Circuit Court judge to determine whether the City Council's rollback of monthly parking fees is legal, city officials said.
"Going to the court for legal determination would be the most prudent thing to do," said Corporation Counsel David Arakawa, the city's chief legal counsel.
The administration is seeking a declamatory judgment from the court to settle the question of whether the bill that the Council overrode last week is illegal.
Taking the Council to court is unprecedented for the Harris administration, but, Arakawa also said, "This is not the first time that a disagreement between the Council and the city administration resulted in a lawsuit, as Mayor (Frank) Fasi had many legal disputes with the Council."
In June the City Council approved a 50 percent increase in parking rates for meters and municipal lots, which was expected to bring in $2.3 million more in revenue to balance the city's $1.22 billion operating budget.
But last month, the Council repealed the fee hike for monthly charges at downtown municipal garages with parking attendants, including Alii Place, Harbor Court, Marin Tower, Kukui Plaza, Hale Pauahi, Harbor Village, Chinatown Gateway and Kekaulike Courtyards.
The rollback did not affect the fees from parking meters and other municipal lots. But Harris vetoed the bill, saying it would mean $630,000 less in revenue.
Harris argued the Council vote was illegal because it unbalanced the budget and violated the City Charter mandate for a balanced budget.
"For the City Council to now enact another ordinance to repeal the parking fees relied upon as stated revenues in the executive operating budget ordinance without rendering the budget unbalanced is illegal," Harris said in his veto message.
On Nov. 10, however, the Council voted 8-1 to override the veto.
City spokeswoman Carol Costa said the Council's override came despite warnings from the mayor that the legislation was illegal.
Now, the city is faced with incurring more costs because the administration will have to hire private attorneys to take the case to court, she said.
"What a waste of money," Budget Committee member Ann Kobayashi said of the planned legal action. "It just doesn't seem worth it."
But Costa said the Council should have listened to the legal opinion from city attorneys.
"The Council knew the financial impact when it overrode the veto," she said.
Kobayashi said she stands behind the Council's action as legal and that the repeal of the fees will not cause a shortfall in revenues. She said the administration has overestimated revenues in previous budgets.
This is not the first bill the mayor has declared illegal following a Council override. While Harris has threatened legal action before, he instead decided to ignore the measures and not implement them.
Until the dispute is resolved in court, the administration plans to continue charging the higher parking fee at the affected lots. Department of Facility Maintenance Director Larry Leopardi told the Budget Committee yesterday that if the administration does not prevail in the lawsuit, parking customers would be reimbursed for any overcharges.