View Point

Friday, January 22, 1999

Mayor is to blame
for Natatorium
bid snafu

Harris was responsible
for short bidding period

By Donna Mercado Kim


ONCE again, Mayor Jeremy Harris has misstated the facts and refuses to be accountable for the renovation of the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium by childishly blaming me for higher-than-anticipated costs (Jan. 16, "Natatorium critics rip mayor on costs"). Just as bad, the Star-Bulletin's Jan. 19 editorial apparently bought into the mayor's spin-doctoring and did not reflect both sides of the issue.

According to your Jan. 16 article, Mayor Harris blames me for "stalling" approvals in the City Council Zoning Committee, of which I am chairwoman, which he said resulted in a "hastened bidding process that caused contractors to overstate their bids." The mayor is also quoted as saying that my strategy all along was to delay approval for the Natatorium until there was insufficient time to bid.

The mayor fails to mention that the city advertised preliminary plans and specifications to all bidders as early as Nov. 20, 1998. This was done prior to official Council approval on Dec. 2, and one month prior to the official Dec. 23 bid opening.

This preliminary ad went beyond normal practice and was run specifically to give bidders more time to study the matter, since the administration was lobbying aggressively to put the Natatorium on the Council's Dec. 2 meeting agenda for a final vote. Randall Fujiki, director of the city Design and Construction Department, insisted that the city would get valid bids.

If there was a lengthy deferral of the Natatorium within the Zoning Committee, that was the fault of the administration. It is no secret that I had and still have major fiscal, health and safety concerns regarding this project.

But the Zoning Committee was forced to defer this matter until the administration adequately identified measures to address health, safety and maintenance concerns raised by various experts in connection with water turbidity and infectious micro-organisms in the pool. To date, these concerns have not been fully addressed.

The mayor blames me for the limited bid time, yet it is common knowledge that the delay in sending many other projects out to bid was a standard course of action in 1998 for this administration. For example, according to published legal ads, 26 other city projects were advertised on Nov. 30, 1998, with bid openings on Dec. 20, 1998. That was the same number of days (20) given to bidders for the Natatorium project.

In fact, bidders on the Natatorium had an additional 12-day lead time, since plans and specs were made available on Nov. 20 and bidders were allowed to visit the site on Dec. 7. Additionally, four other projects shared identical bidding timetables with the Natatorium, with their bid openings a day earlier. Two of these projects were sent to the Council, barely making the deadline to be placed on the Zoning Committee's agenda. Again, the administration lobbied hard to get these last-minute items scheduled for a Council vote.

The number of city projects processed in the last few months of 1998 is astounding. I have learned that, in prior years, the Budget and Fiscal Services' Purchasing Division usually processed approximately 130-150 projects annually. In just the last two months of 1998, however, the division reviewed and prepared bid opening for approximately 130 projects. That's an amount usually handled in a year's time! Why did the administration wait until the end of the year to rush everything through, then blame me for a 20-day bid period imposed on 54 other projects?

Since these 54 projects were advertised beginning Nov. 30, 1998, and all were given only 20-22 days for contractors to submit bids, is the mayor claiming that contractors who bid on these projects did not have enough time and that, therefore, their bid figures were also inflated, like in the Natatorium's case?

If, in fact, Healy Tibbitts Builders overestimated its $10.8 million base bid by as much as 50 percent, and now wants to be able to include $5-6 million worth of additives, I cry, "Foul!" The Natatorium was openly discussed in numerous public meetings for more than a year. Surely, if two highly respected companies both bid in the neighborhood of $18 million for full restoration, it only confirms my position that the project would easily exceed the $11.5 million appropriated for it.

The "limited" amount of time allowed for the Natatorium bid is just an excuse on the part of Mayor Harris. Consequently, I intend to hold the mayor to his word that he will NOT come back to the Council to seek more funds when that $11.5 million appropriation is found to be inadequate.

Donna Mercado Kim represents District VII
on the Honolulu City Council and is
chairwoman of its Committee on Zoning.

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