Thursday, May 17, 2001

Lingle’s land
project questioned

The Maui Council may
hire Margery Bronster to
investigate Makawao Highlands

By Gary T. Kubota
Maui correspondent

WAILUKU >> The Maui County Council may hire former state Attorney General Margery Bronster to investigate an affordable-housing development in Makawao initiated in 1996 by then-Mayor Linda Lingle.

Council members are scheduled to vote June 1 on a resolution hiring Bronster as special counsel. The proposed resolution authorizes Bronster to be paid at a rate of $200 an hour and to spend up to $30,000.

Council members say they want to know if proper procedures were followed in the purchase and development of Makawao Highlands -- land purchased to head off a potential lawsuit against the county.

Some Council members said they approved the land purchase as an affordable-housing project in 1996 without knowing it was a vehicle for a settlement.

According to an audit authorized by the Council, the housing project resulted in the county losing an estimated $1.4 million.

Lingle, chairwoman of the Republican Party of Hawaii and expected to run for governor next year, said she followed the legal advice of county attorneys every step of the way in developing Makawao Highlands.

She called the proposed investigation "a complete waste of money."

Lingle noted the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development nominated Makawao Highlands for an award for "best practices."

The project enabled a number of residents to purchase their first home and allowed developmentally disabled workers to receive job training. Lingle also criticized the audit, noting that Yamane was the former treasurer of the Democratic Party of Maui.

Council Vice Chairman Dain Kane said although Council members voted last year to authorize the investigation, they need to pass the resolution to specifically hire Bronster.

Kane said there is no indication of criminal wrongdoing. "It's just a matter of looking at the information and reporting back to us to see if we should move forward," he said.

Kane said an audit of Makawao Highlands raised some questions he felt needed to be answered regarding the mayor's and Council's powers.

Six of nine Council members are required to approve the investigation.

At least five voted to approve the resolution during a closed committee meeting Tuesday.

Councilman Robert Carroll, who was not at the meeting, said he plans to support the investigation but has mixed feelings about whether it will do any good other than "clearing the air."

The 22-lot project is located in rural Makawao off Baldwin Avenue along Ke'e Road.

The Lingle administration decided the county should buy the 3.9 acres of land for $1.95 million after developer Joel Cavasso said he had been advised to sue the county for giving him false information about the zoning.

Cavasso said he had been told the land was classified residential when it was agricultural.

Lingle said she informed Council members individually about the project.

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