Accountability requires elected officials make transit choice
Mayor Hannemann has proposed that a panel of experts pick the city's transit system mode.
HAVING a panel of experts choose the kind of transit system the city will build would eliminate accountability for a decision that rightly belongs in the hands of elected officials.
Taxpayers would basically be cut out of the process if the determination is left to those who do not have to answer to them, as do City Council members and the mayor. An impartial panel of "experts" could be beneficial, but its role should be advisory only.
While voters cannot expect that the Council and the administration become scholars in transit modes, elected officials are obligated to develop enough proficiency to make an informed choice. It might require research, a good amount of reading, asking the right questions and getting clear answers, but that's what they signed on for.
The proposal to set up a panel comes as the Council and Mayor Mufi Hannemann wrangle over who ultimately will choose the type of vehicle to run on a fixed guideway to provide sorely needed mass transit on Oahu.
The Council last year voted to reserve the right to choose. The mayor, who should not be excluded from decision-making, has proposed to gain some control by establishing the panel.
Councilman Nestor Garcia, chairman of the transportation committee that will review the proposal and a Hannemann ally, told the Star-Bulletin's Laurie Au that the panel would consist of four individuals appointed by the administration and one by the Council.
That line-up isn't likely to be supported by the mayor's Council critics, opening another front in the increasingly tiresome battle of political wills.
Whatever the balance of appointments, members of the panel would have to be impartial, unaffiliated with businesses or investors that could profit from the chosen mode. While not impossible, it might be difficult to find individuals willing to lend their expertise -- with or without compensation -- and be subject to liability should the choice run off the tracks.
A panel could work if it merely makes a recommendation, but the elected officials cannot simply accept the advice without due diligence on their part.
The mayor contends having a panel make the choice would remove politics from the decision, but political consideration -- aka public scrutiny -- is essential if taxpayers are to be heard. Moreover, such a process would allow officials to dodge responsibility, and the system's multibillion-dollar price tag is much too big a buck to pass off.