City Council taps lobbyist to track Legislature work
Djou files a complaint over the panel's hiring of Democratic Party insider Alex Santiago
City Council Chairwoman Barbara Marshall has hired former state lawmaker and Hawaii Democratic Party Chairman Alex Santiago to track bills at the state Legislature for the Council.
Santiago is registered with the state as a lobbyist.
Marshall said the contract is for just less than $50,000 and that Santiago will not be lobbying, just tracking legislation and alerting councilmembers when a measure needs their attention or action.
Councilman Charles Djou challenged the hiring.
"I think using taxpayer resources to hire a lobbyist to lobby for politicians to other politicians is not what we should be spending our money on," Djou said. "This has got to be the biggest waste of money."
Marshall disagreed. "I don't think it's a waste of money. I'm confident that we will save the taxpayer way more than we are spending. If I didn't think that, I would never have done it," she said. "I do think that it's very important that the Council be more aware of what needs to be done across the street (at the Legislature) when it needs to be done."
Marshall said that too many times, the Council hears about issues or bills that passed or did not pass far too late in the process.
She said she was looking for someone who has clients who will not be doing business with the city and that Santiago's clients are mainly health care-related.
"I needed someone with a good relationship at the Legislature, that's used to working over there and, more importantly, that's used to tracking bills," Marshall said.
Marshall said she got the idea after listening to a convincing presentation by Maui County, which also has a legislative liaison.
Djou said he filed with a complaint with the Office of Information Practices, which oversees the state's open-meetings law, contending that the hiring is illegal because the contract was not approved by the majority of councilmembers in an open meeting. But Marshall said she is authorized to make such a hiring as "the presiding officer of the Council."
Mayor Mufi Hannemann's administration has a legislative liaison who tracks bills, and the Hawaii State Association of Counties, of which all four counties are members, also lobbies on behalf of county issues.
But Marshall said sometimes their interests are different from the interests of the Honolulu City Council.
"You've known me long enough to know that I won't do something that's a waste of money," Marshall said.
Djou said five out of the nine councilmembers once served in the Legislature, and several Council staffers who once worked at the Legislature know how the legislative tracking process works.