City contracts policy assailed
A prominent publicist asks for a state ruling against cronyism
THE HEAD of Hawaii's largest public relations firm has asked the state to weigh in on a city procurement policy that she alleges allows officials to give contracts to friends.
In a petition filed yesterday with the state Procurement Policy Board, Communications Pacific Chief Executive Officer Kitty Lagareta said the city violated state procurement laws when it added a nonbid subcontractor to work on a $9.7 million mass transit study.
The addition shifted about $800,000 in work slated for Lagareta and a second public relations firm, the Limtiaco Co., to Community Planning & Engineering. Community Planning is headed by Joe Pickard, Mayor Mufi Hannemann's friend and political supporter.
"The public is the ultimate victim of such problems associated with public procurement because it awards works to favored contractors who are not required to compete," Lagareta said. "I just want the process to be fair."
But Pickard and Hannemann have denied their friendship had anything to do with the firm being added.
Pickard has told the Star-Bulletin he approached contractor Parsons Brinckerhoff Quade & Douglas to join the team. He could not be reached for comment last night.
In a statement released yesterday, city spokesman Bill Brennan said the petition "appears to merely be an attempt by Ms. Lagareta to ... put the city in a bad light."
He also questioned "whether or why the board would even want to consider such a matter, thus opening itself up to every petty complaint any subcontractor might have in the future."
The petition asks for a declaratory ruling "to prevent government officials from using their procurement authority to give contracts to their friends."
It says Communications Pacific would only benefit from the case if the board rules that the city must return to its original subcontractors. If the study contract is put out for bid again, Lagareta said, she will not apply.
State law prohibits the policy board from "exercising its authority over any particular contract or any dispute, claim or litigation," said state Procurement Office administrator Aaron Fujioka.
The petition, meanwhile, asks the board to weigh in on the city's policy of substituting or adding subcontractors, and uses the mass transit study as an example. It is unclear if this distinction will be enough for the board.
Fujioka declined to comment on the case because had not yet seen it. He did say that it would be "precedent setting" if the board decided to rule on a city procurement policy.
Star-Bulletin writer Richard Borreca contributed to this report.