HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Colbert Matsumoto, the newest appointee to the rail authority's board, has a proven track record for turning around troubled institutions. But it's his company's land holdings in Kakaako and Kalihi that have critics calling for him to step down.
"It's one thing to be a developer. It's another thing to be a developer that you have properties around the route. That is a direct conflict," said rail critic Panos Prevedouros.
Matsumoto is the CEO of Tradewind Capital, which owns or is financing tens of millions of dollars in property near the future route.
That includes the 801 South Street project and former Sprint building on Dillingham Boulevard, where the city plans to relocate its Motor Vehicle branch and its Satellite City Hall.
The city is currently leasing the Kalihi property with an option to buy in three years. But some question whether that's a good deal for taxpayers.
"We have to pay rent for at least three years and then that rent money doesn't apply to the purchase price," said Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi. "Another councilmember raised the question 'why don't we just use eminent domain?'"
City officials said that Matsumoto has no direct personal conflict since it's his company that benefits from the properties, not him personally.
According to Matsumoto, Tradewind began the process of buying the Kakaako parcels long before the mayor asked him to replaced former First Hawaiian Bank CEO Don Horner on HART's board.
Matsumoto said that if questions over potential conflicts arise, he would seek a ruling from the city Ethics Commission. He added that he would declare any conflict and recuse himself from voting if the commission found that there was a conflict.
Caldwell, who appointed Matsumoto to help solve the rail's complex problems, said Matsumoto's record speaks for itself.
"He's the kind of person we need. He's calm, cool and collected. ... He rescued the Japanese Culture Center from near bankruptcy," Caldwell said. "He was the court-appointed master when we had all the pilikia with the Kamehameha Schools/Bishop Estate."