EXCLUSIVE: Board of Water Supply contract controversy

EXCLUSIVE: Board of Water Supply contract controversy
Published: Nov. 26, 2013 at 3:56 AM HST|Updated: Nov. 26, 2013 at 2:15 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - If you think your water bill is soaring, take a look at what the Honolulu Board of Water Supply had to pay a consultant for its customer billing system.

Hawaii News Now has learned that the board is paying contractor EMA Inc. of Minnesota nearly $3.5 million, even though the company was initially hired in 2008 for about $800,000.

The reason: unexpected contract amendments, or change orders.

"The change orders are just too many and adding up to too much," said Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi.

Kobayashi is concerned the cost of these change orders are being passed on to consumers.

She's also worried about the board's new billing system, which has generated hundreds of complaints from local families about inaccurate billing estimates.

She said the board used to charge customers $7.02 every two months just to pay for their water bill. Now families are paying $7.02 every month, or double what they used to.

"There's so many people are suffering. I don't know how many people have paid in protest and you know they've dipped into their savings just to pay these huge bills."

Hawaii News Now has also learned that the board's former chief information officer Brian McKee signed off on some of the change orders, even though his wife once worked with EMA.

On Friday, Hawaii News Now reported that the city Ethics Commission was investigating alleged improper BWS contracts issued to a company headed by McKee.

"The most concerning thing is this pattern of perhaps inappropriate relationships with contractors and government officials," said University of Hawaii Political Science Professor Colin Moore.

McKee and EMA did not return calls and the board had no comment.

Kobayashi said she has been asking the board for copies of bureau contracts with EMA and other vendors but has not gotten any of those records.

Hawaii News Now has also filed for those records under the state open records law but the board has not given those records and has said that the station would have to pay for them if they made them available.

"I think they need some sort of oversight ... whatever it takes because we're not getting information. There's no transparency," Kobayashi said.

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