Friday, June 15, 2001

Kauai mayor
might keep car

The Council sets a hearing on
possible after-the-fact approval

By Anthony Sommer
Kauai correspondent

LIHUE >> After several hours of hand wringing, the Kauai County Council moved forward a bill that would legalize Mayor Maryanne Kusaka's leasing of a luxury sedan for herself at taxpayer expense.

The lease of the vehicle was done without approval of the Council. Now the Council is being asked for approval "retroactive" to the Feb. 22 lease date.

The Kauai County Charter requires any multiyear financial obligation be approved by the Council.

Kusaka's office initially argued that because the two-year lease was paid for in a lump $15,600 payment, it was not a multiyear obligation. But last week, Kusaka sent a draft bill to the Council that would meet the Charter requirement, an acknowledgment that Council approval is needed after all.

Yesterday, the Council unanimously set the bill for a public hearing. But Council members made it clear their vote does not mean they will support the bill when it comes up for final reading.

Also left unanswered is whether the mayor violated state purchasing law by not seeking bids on the lease.

The vehicle, a Chrysler, was leased from auto dealer Charlie King, Kusaka's 1998 campaign co-chairman and her single largest donor.

Councilman Kaipo Asing said he is waiting for a determination from the State Purchasing Office before pursuing that allegation.

Asing has been the mayor's most severe critic on the auto lease.

From late 1994 until February, Kusaka had driven her personal car on county business and was given an annual auto allowance. The amount she spent on the lease was almost four times the allowance given her by the Council.

And the lease came shortly after the Council had turned down her request for a 16 percent pay raise.

Deputy County Attorney Galen Nakamura, who issued an opinion to the mayor's office that no Council approval was needed for the lease, took most of the heat at yesterday's meeting.

Nakamura said "someone in the administration" asked whether it would be legal to lease a car for the mayor without going through the requirement of taking it to the Council. Nakamura said he could not remember who requested the legal opinion.

He said he ruled it would be legal if the lease was paid off in a single year.

Nakamura said he did not consider "contingent liabilities," such as costs incurred in any future auto accidents or excessive mileage penalties paid at the end of the lease.

"The intent was to try to make the transaction comply with the Charter provision, not to violate it," Nakamura said.

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