David Shapiro at the Honolulu Star Advertiser gives a powerful look at what’s wrong with the rail project in his most recent article, “Questionable connections litter embattled rail project.”
Councilman Nestor Garcia’s $6,500 ethics fine for voting 52 times in favor of rail without disclosing his $60,000-a-year job with the pro-rail Kapolei Chamber of Commerce highlighted a pattern of ethically troubling associations surrounding the $5.26 billion rail project.
Garcia had another $30,000-a-year side job as a part-time safety officer for Dura Constructors.
Dura’s principal is Tom Enomoto, who was listed as the “responsible managing employee” for Ansaldo Honolulu when the company was fighting last year to nail down a $1.4 billion contract to provide rail cars for the system.
Ansaldo seemed to have the inside track on the rail car contract from the start despite the deep financial troubles of its Italian parent Finmeccanica, a spotty performance record in other cities and its lack of necessary Hawaii licenses.
What Ansaldo did have was local political connections: In addition to Enomoto, Ansaldo listed Jeff Coelho, city managing director under former Mayor Mufi Hannemann, as a company executive and Carolyn Tanaka, Hannemann’s spokeswoman when he ran for governor, as the company’s spokeswoman.
As the Ansaldo contract came to a head before the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, HART board member Ivan Lui-Kwan disclosed to the Ethics Commission that Ansaldo had asked another partner at his law firm to be its legal counsel.
The Ansaldo contract was steered through the HART board by its finance chairman, Don Horner, then the CEO of First Hawaiian Bank, whose French parent company, BNP Paribas, has major financial ties to Finmeccanica.
First Hawaiian discounted any conflict of interest by arguing that BNP Paribas had business ties to all three bidders on the rail car contract.
But when asked to document that the level of business with the three bidders was comparable, First Hawaiian declined to provide information on the relative values and risks of the loan portfolios, citing “a moral obligation to maintain customer privacy.”
First Hawaiian, which like other Hawaii banks stands to do lucrative business underwriting transit-oriented development, has since doubled down on its influence on HART by hiring the board chairwoman, Carrie Okinaga, for the bank’s legal staff and quickly promoting her to general counsel.
Another ongoing conflict got cozier last week when HDR Engineering Inc., which has a $5.5 million contract to design three West Oahu rail stations, announced it was purchasing InfraConsult LLC, which has a $36.7 million city contract to manage the rail project and oversee design contracts such as HDR’s.
If that’s not incestuous enough for you, InfraConsult was originally formed by three executives from Parsons Brinckerhoff, which has engineering contracts for Honolulu rail potentially worth more than $400 million.
City Transportation Director Wayne Yoshioka worked for Parsons Brinckerhoff on the Honolulu rail project before joining the city, and his wife still works there.
Ben Cayetano in his most recent TV debate said that while rail is a big issue, the even bigger issue is the control special interests have had for so long over Honolulu. This election is truly a referendum for the people’s right to determine their future rather than a select few.