Online expense reports
detail Council spending

Councilman Rod Tam spent
the most, while Gary Okino
spent the least

Trick-or-treat goodies: $18.

A television to monitor meetings: $109.

Tracking how the City Council spends taxpayer dollars: priceless, Council members say.

From leis to refreshments, photocopies and postage, each City Council member for the first time reported online how much money he or she spent during the city's just-completed fiscal year. Each started with an allotment of $9,920 for the year.

The expenditure reports are listed on the Council's Web site and show who spent how much and on what from July 1, 2004, to June 30.

The expense reports show that Councilman Rod Tam was the biggest spender, using $9,154 of his allotment. Next came Councilman Romy Cachola, spending $7,419.

On the other end, Councilman Gary Okino spent the least with $1,258. Councilwoman Barbara Marshall spent $1,871.

Council Chairman Donovan Dela Cruz said the online reporting was not the only first. This was also the first year that Council members were allotted an equal amount to use as they wished to run their offices.

"Prior to this system, the chair controlled everything," Dela Cruz said. "You rewarded your friends and punished your enemies."

Last year, Okino raised concerns about what he saw as excessive spending by Tam for photocopies and postage for community mailings.

Now, Dela Cruz said, there is more accountability on spending to address the kind of criticism posed by Okino.

"Now we can get rid of focusing on the petty things," Dela Cruz said. "I think this system is fair. It's reasonable, it's transparent."

Councilman Charles Djou said, "The previous year with the Xeroxing, it was hard to account for who was accountable for all that. Now it will lead to a more responsible government, and I think that's a good thing."

But Okino said he does not see the new system helping to curb unnecessary expenditures. "It didn't make a difference," Okino said. "It doesn't seem like it did."

Taking trips

Travel was by far the largest one-time expense reported by Council members. Trips were reported by individual Council members to Asia, the mainland and the neighbor islands for conferences or meetings that took up issues such as transit, solid waste and property taxes.

Cachola reported this past week an estimated $3,000 spent on a trip that ran from June 25 to July 2. While the trip was designated for the purpose of "transit," the location was not disclosed in the report.

Tam reported a trip to the Shanxi province of China with expenses for air fare and phone bills at $1,278. According to a resolution adopted earlier this year by the Council, the trip was to discuss economic development and possibly setting up a sister city relationship. A donation of $1,460 from Henry Ou, president and owner of Air & Sea Travel Center Inc., went to help with the accommodations and meals for the trip from Feb. 25 to March 5.

Dela Cruz, Cachola and Tam reported traveling to Arizona last July to attend the National Association of Counties annual conference. Honolulu will be the site of this year's conference, scheduled for Friday to July 19, a source of controversy for mainland jurisdictions coming here.

Dela Cruz reported his expenses for that trip were $2,141, Cachola's were $1,898 and Tam's were $1,662.

Tam, the Public Works Committee chairman, also went to the Big Island, Kauai and Maui in the first half of the fiscal year for what he reported to be Hawaii State Association of Counties business on solid-waste issues at a total cost of $957, but in the last two weeks of the fiscal year, he reimbursed the city $817 for air fare for those trips.

Council Budget Chairwoman Ann Kobayashi reported in January a trip for her and staff to Maui earlier this year to meet with Maui County Council and community members as part of her effort to come up with tax relief for Honolulu. The cost for air fare for five, car rental, refreshments and lunch totaled $944.

Councilmen Todd Apo and Nestor Garcia joined Dela Cruz, Kobayashi and Cachola for a trip to Kauai for the Hawaii State Association of Counties meeting on Kauai from June 20 to 21 at an estimated cost of $680 apiece.

Apo said that with him being a new Council member, he sees traveling as beneficial in touching base with other counties and municipalities on issues they all face, whether it is on the mainland or on the neighbor islands.

But not everyone traveled this year. "I didn't see any advantage to travel this year," Okino said. "Maybe other members did."

Djou also said he has not traveled on the city's dime and does not see the need to do so.


Tam said he spent far less on postage this year, deciding instead to turn to the newsletters and literature of other community organizations to update constituents.

Tam said he wanted to inform constituents at their homes rather than make them trek to City Hall and find parking downtown.

"Meetings where we get together, try to discuss mutual concerns, talking story on their problems," he said. "I go to Zippy's, drink coffee with them."

Tam's report shows that besides Zippy's, he spent hundreds of dollars on refreshments for meetings with constituents and staff, and he also paid for food at a variety of restaurants. He said his constituents would rather he spend his money at inexpensive coffeehouses than "some five-star hotel restaurant."

Tam said he also does not like to spend much time at his City Hall office because the aging ventilation system at Honolulu Hale harbors dust, mold and mildew that aggravate his allergies.

Okino said he spent his allotment on "just what I needed."

"I wasn't looking to spend the whole thing," he said. "I used it on things that were legitimately Council business."

Photocopies and office supplies were the main sources of his expenditures. He also spent money on registration fees to conferences on Oahu.

Apo succeeded former Councilman Mike Gabbard, who did not run for Council re-election, halfway through the fiscal year, spending $3,750 from January. And as the newest member of the Council, Apo said much of his money went toward startup costs, including setting up a second office in his district at Kapolei Hale.

"I felt that it was important that we have a true presence in Kapolei. The mayor has done the same," Apo said.

During the first half of the fiscal year, Gabbard spent $636, mostly on photocopies and office supplies. His expenditures included $18 for trick-or-treat goodies.

Djou said that communicating with his constituents was an important criterion in deciding how to use his expense account. Nearly half of the amount Djou spent -- or $2,510 -- went to the printing and postage costs for a community newsletter.

"Was it going to help my communication with my constituents so that the public knows what I am doing, what my positions are ... in terms of what I am doing at City Hall?" he said.

Council members also spent money on other forms of communication.

Djou, for example, spent $216 on periodicals including Business Week and the Economist and $76 for "CQ's Politics in America 2006." Other Council members also bought newspaper subscriptions.

Tam spent $312 for a cellular phone, and Garcia purchased one for $600.

Council members Marshall and Cachola each spent $109 on a television to watch Council committee meetings.

Cameras and photograph purchases were also reported. Apo cited a $671 purchase for a kit that includes a camera and custom photographs, while Kobayashi paid $209 for photographs for use in newsletters and the media.

Cut the budget

Djou said that because the reports show that he and most of his colleagues spent less than $6,000, the Council should consider cutting the expense accounts by $2,000, $3,000 or $4,000 apiece.

"I think if we're asking the public to shell out more for taxes, the City Council should also consider cuts. Every little bit counts," he said.

Dela Cruz said he thinks the amount should stay the same for the time being to give each member the flexibility to best serve their constituents.

Dela Cruz said that whatever money is not used during the fiscal year goes back into the general fund.

But Djou pointed out that if each Council member's expense account went down by $4,000, that could help pay for another position somewhere in the city.

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