Video by David Corrigan | Voice of Stephanie Salazar
The chair of the county council is striking back in the escalating budget battle, calling into question the county’s law team.
Last week, Mayor Billy Kenoi vetoed the amended budget that was passed by the Hawaii County Council, saying it was apparently illegal.
In his veto message, the mayor was critical of an amendment that cut 10% percent from all county departments, using an unprecedented new account to do so.
The administration said “Corporation Counsel on June 14, 2011 issued a legal analysis advising County Director of Finance Nancy Crawford that this Council use of the “Council Adjusted Expense Account” is in effect a violation of the separation of powers mandated in Article III of the Hawai‘i County Charter”
On Monday, Council Chair Dominic Yagong called a press conference to talk about the veto message, and the conflict of interest that Yagong believes casts a shadow over the council’s legal representation.
That’s because Licoln Ashida, who heads the county Corporation Counsel, represents both the County Council, and the administration… he is the lawyer who apparently alerted the mayor to the “numerous legal infirmities” in the budget bill.
Yagong said the veto message was the first he had heard about the legal integrity of the bill, and he defended his “Council Adjusted Expense Account” amendment.
The whole back and forth has resulted in a sort of “leadership hot potato” in which both sides are accusing the other of falling short.
Yagong says at the heart of the matter is a natural conflict of interest. That’s why on Friday the Hawaii County Council will hold a special meeting, one week before the June 30th veto override vote. Yagong is introducing a resolution to hire special counsel, outside of Ashida’s office, to review the amended budget and render an opinion on its legality.
The cost will be set not to exceed $8,000. Right now, Yagong is not sure where the money will come from. He says in the past, that has come out of a special fund under the corporation counsel, but he said Ashida opposes the attempt to use that funding source. Yagong did say the money could be taken from the County Clerk’s budget, as well. The attorney would have to be chosen from the county’s professional list. It would require a two thirds vote to pass.
This is not the first time Yagong has gone toe to toe with Ashida over a perceived conflict of interest… In 2009, Yagong called Ashida out in a council meeting, shortly after the council had re-organized itself. The re-organization established a new council majority, leaving Yagong as a member of the minority, and unseated as Finance Chairman. The re-org was later found to be improper and in violation of the Sunshine Law.
At that time, Big Island Video News sat down to talk with Ashida, about the challenges in representing opposing political factions of the same governing body.
The final vote on the budget will be on June 30th. The council will need 6 votes to override the mayor’s veto.