Squabbles could endanger transit funds
A City Councilman's call for a federal probe of a mass-transit contract draws political fire.
CITY Councilman Charles Djou doesn't know if there was any "hanky panky" involved in the way the Hannemann administration handled a contract for a $9.7 million mass-transit study, but says suspicions are enough to justify his call for a federal inquiry
Djou's request to the U.S. Transportation Department's inspector general could unnecessarily delay the project or jeopardize its federal funding. He and the administration should attempt to settle this dispute themselves.
The councilman says he is only trying to protect taxpayers, a commendable effort. However, given his opposition to a tax increase to pay for the city's portion of the venture, Djou is vulnerable to charges that his tactic is a ruse to put the kibosh on the project, as Congressman Neil Abercrombie contends.
Moreover, Djou's move indicates he has little faith in local authorities -- including the Council itself -- to look into the matter and get answers from the administration.
The issue emerged when two public relations executives complained that their companies' portion of a subcontract had been reduced in the overall contract and that another firm, headed by a friend and political supporter of the mayor, had been given the work instead.
Djou says the administration hasn't given him a satisfactory explanation for the change and that the logical avenue for recourse is the federal government. Abercrombie, who has invested a lot of time and political capital in securing the federal funds, criticized Djou, saying the Council member "better have the evidence at hand," which Djou acknowledges he doesn't have.
Money and politics make for a volatile mix and as funds for the project begin to flow, there are bound to be similar disputes. The insular nature of businesses and political connections in the state will surely stir further accusations of cronyism and favoritism.
Djou is correct in asking questions. However, he and other officials owe taxpayers an openness about how money is being spent and an assurance that the best people are being chosen for contracts without engaging in political clashes all along the way.
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