Council rejects affordable housing posts; doubles staff that report to chair

Council rejects affordable housing posts; doubles staff that report to chair
Published: Jun. 8, 2015 at 10:11 PM HST|Updated: Jun. 8, 2015 at 10:22 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Honolulu City Council, which refused to fund seven new affordable housing positions, has doubled the number of staff that report to Chair Ernie Martin since he took the helm five years ago.

The administration of Mayor Kirk Caldwell was upset when the City Council last week refused to fund seven permanent positions to work to create affordable housing on Oahu and put roofs over the heads of more homeless people.

"We don't have any professionals since we did away with the Housing Department back some 17 years ago. And you can't build housing without those professionals," said Roy Amemiya, Caldwell's managing director who runs day-to-day city operations.

Council Budget Chair Ann Kobayashi said the council is trying not to grow government, but privately, other Caldwell staffers said that's hypocritical. That's because in the five years Martin has chaired the Council, it has roughly doubled the number of staff reporting to him, adding six new positions.

In the last few years, the Council has created and filled a boards and commissions liaison, a Council liaison and a media communications position. All three of those posts were filled by past employees of former Council members Romy Cachola, Donovan Dela Cruz and Nestor Garcia.

Martin said he was startled at the lack of resources for council members when he became chair in 2011.

"Since I've become chairman of the City Council, it's always been my position to bring the legislative branch on an even keel with the executive branch," Martin said.

Kobayashi said, "The Council now has staff to send out hearing notices, to write minutes."

As of July 1, the Council is adding $130,000 to the budget for its own housing policy coordinator and an assistant as well as $150,000 for someone to provide oversight of the rail transit project.

"This is part of the exercise to ensure that we have the resources necessary so we can at least assure the general public that it's unacceptable for us to continue to incur these cost over runs," Martin said.

Kobayashi said, "Well, it's growth, but it's actually providing for what we never had before which we should have been doing before."

The relationship between Martin and Caldwell has grown increasingly testy as Martin considers challenging Caldwell for the mayor's post in 2016.

The Council last week also approved filling a position that's been vacant for more than a decade: a deputy city clerk position at a salary of $125,000. The woman hired for that post is the former senior aide to Martin and was a union lobbyist.

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