In offering Hanabusa a $216K contract, HART may have broken laws, critics say

Even though she turned down the job and became an unpaid board member, some say it still might've violated the law.
Updated: Jun. 14, 2021 at 6:57 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Honolulu rail authority raised suspicion and triggered public outcry back in April when it awarded a $216,000 contract to former Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa.

Critics said it appeared HART was trying to steer the lucrative job her way.

During a Hawaii News Now Sunrise interview Monday, HART CEO Lori Kahikina appeared to confirm skeptics’ concerns.

HART interim CEO Lori Kaihikina joined Grace Lee to share updates on the rail project.

“Prior to the solicitation we referred to the contract as the Colleen or Hanabusa contract,” Kahikina said.

“Based on the specifications alone, it was difficult to say this was not bid rigging,” said Ian Lind, board member of Common Cause Hawaii and a longtime investigative reporter.

“But now, we find out before the solicitation was made that they were calling it ‘Colleen’s contract’ or ‘Hanabusas contract.’ This is wrong,” he added.

Even though Hanabusa turned down the job last month and joined HART as an unpaid board member, Lind said the rail authority still may have violated state procurement laws.

“Bid rigging is illegal and I’m presuming conspiracy to rig bids is illegal. And in that case it doesn’t matter that the contract was never let,” Lind said.

Added Randal Lee, a former prosecutor and Hawaii Pacific University Professor:

“It raises a serious ethical issue in terms of whether not the contract was pre-deterimined and who was going to get it,” said Lee.

“I’ve never seen something like that in my 25 years as a prosecutor and especially doing public corruption cases. I’ve never seen something like that.”

Kahikina said she has asked the city’s lawyers for an opinion, which she said cleared HART.

“So I did double check and conferred with corporation counsel. Although that was not a procurement violation, we all could have handled that better,” she said.

A city spokesman said late today that the Mayor Rick Blangiardi and Managing Director Michael Formby were not part of the procurement process or the discussion for the contract.

“As to why there isn’t a procurement violation, it is our understanding that while it was poor judgment by HART officials to refer to the consultant contract as they did, that by itself, taking into account the other facts and circumstances, does not mean a violation had occurred,” said City spokesman Tim Sakahara.

Hanabusa could not reached for immediate comment.

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