Recycling bill pits mayor against City Council

Recycling Bill pits mayor against the city council
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Honolulu City Council has approved a subsidy for recycling firms, overriding a veto by Mayor Kirk Caldwell.

The bill itself has sparked heated discussion. It allows for a $600,000 recycling subsidy, nearly 90 percent of which would go to a recycling company based on the mainland.

The measure was vetoed by the mayor earlier this month. But the Honolulu City Council voted to override the mayor's choice on Wednesday and approved the bill with some strong disapproval for the chief executive.

The vote came after some scathing criticism of the mayor, who was accused by some council members of disrespecting them and the legislative process after he offered an eleventh-hour compromise through the press and not in person.

It wasn't the merits of the recycling subsidy that appeared to be up for debate, but rather the manner in which the mayor approached the discussion.

"When the administration treats the body as it does by doing press conferences before they even try working with us or making these proposals with us, then that further drives a wedge into the relationship, not just between the mayor and individual members but really between the administration and the body, the council," said City Councilman Joey Manahan.

Just hours before the council's scheduled vote Wednesday morning, Mayor Caldwell held this press conference a day before.

"When I vetoed this bill, I made a plea to the council, work with me, don't override the veto just because you feel somehow that I should not have vetoed it, and work with me to get the bill that we need," Caldwell said.

Council members weren't buying it.

"The mayor hasn't spoken to us about his concerns, he's never spoken to us about his concerns, yet he will hold a press conference outside with a hard hat and a vest and a camera crew over and over again, not for the people of Honolulu, but for his own political ambition, and that is the truth," Councilman Trevor Ozawa said.

Council Chairman Ernie Martin, one of the mayor's most vocal critics, went so far as to suggest Caldwell didn't just act out of protocol, but had violated the state's Sunshine Law, which requires proceedings of government agencies to be open or available to the public.

"If I could stand here and tell you that I thought all of this was offered in a sincere and courteous manner, then I would say there's no need for us to override this veto, but it's my opinion that it's not," Martin said. "And actually, I would prefer a 9-0 vote, I think it's disrespectful to the body as a whole, not to any individual member."

The bill was approved 7-2, with opposition coming from those who questioned whether a large company like Schnitzer Steel really needed such a big subsidy.

"It continues to give away taxpayer funds to a billion-dollar company that's a non-local company," Councilman Brandon Elefante said. "This bill is not good public policy, and I feel that there is no repeal date."

Not everyone was unhappy with the mayor's approach.

"Whether some of us feel that it's a little late or not, I see it as an opportunity, an opportunity to make sure that we can get this bill right and to ensure that those smaller businesses are truly the people that we will be serving," Councilwoman Kymberly Marcos Pine said.

The bill establishes a 25 percent discount on disposal or tipping fees for recycling companies if they take a certain amount of solid waste to the landfill and the city's waste-to-energy facility.

Bill 50 is set to go into effect in January 2017. Several council members who voted in favor of the veto override said that gives them more than enough time to consider and pass amendments if needed.

Copyright 2016 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.