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Tuesday, December 17, 2013
Auditor: HART Paid $563K to Blogger who said Job was 'Obviously' to Help Pro-Rail Candidates
By Andrew Walden @ 3:47 AM :: 6517 Views :: Ethics, Rail

by Andrew Walden

The long-awaited City Auditor's report on Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) public relations spending is out.

The Auditor questions HART's relationship with rail contractors and whether HART is upholding a Federal Transit Administration (FTA) mandate to replace contractors with city employees.   The report explains: "If HART retains consultants, it should be aware that violations of employer-independent contractor rules could result in unintended liabilities, and consultant and other risks may impact overhead rates and other costs."

According to the report, HART spent $13.9M on public relations, including this item:

The city paid over half-a-million dollars to a sub-consultant that used questionable public involvement techniques. In this one exception, we found numerous instances where a sub- consultant’s blog contained posts that appeared to be editorial, political, and inappropriate in nature. The questionable language in the blog posts was inconsistent with the objectives and strategies of the Public Involvement Plan....

On the sub-consultant’s required monthly progress report for July 2008, the sub-consultant stated that his additional responsibilities include creating a pro-rail blog. The sub-consultant’s scope of services included maintaining a web log to promote the project on a continuing basis and to include daily postings if warranted by current events.

During our review of the sub-consultant’s blogs from September 2008 to November 2012, we found 118 blog posts that used questionable public involvement techniques. Rather than providing informative, useful, and accurate information on important issues relating to the project, the blog posts were editorial in nature and used disparaging remarks about certain individuals whose views were different from the author.

The sub-consultant posts that appeared to be inappropriate, editorial, and political in nature violated the HART/RTD public involvement strategy. Exhibit 2.5 categorizes the 118 blog posts. Of the 118 blog posts, 53 (approximately 45%) were editorial, 23 (approximately 19%) were political, and 12 (approximately 10%) were inappropriate. We also found that of the 118 blog posts, 20 (approximately 17%) posts contained both editorial and political language, 9 posts (approximately 8%) contained editorial and inappropriate language, and 1 post contained political and inappropriate language.

The following examples illustrate the disparaging posts and language used. (Links added-editor)

The Advertiser’s repetitious coverage of the rail project is parody material, since the lead reporter’s approach rarely strays from its view-with-alarm angle.

The only way “up” for her is to the United States Senate, and it’s hard to see how blocking a project backed by a solid majority of Oahu residents (where most of the votes are) would do her any good.

Voice pro-rail sentiments there and be prepared for an avalanche of invective. And God forbid that you’ve ever been associated with the City Administration in any way or identified as a supporter. That’s an automatic disqualification, according to the anti-rail crowd.

Anti-Rail Manager Brings In a Rookie Closer, but His Best Pitch Was Still the Same Old Screwball

We’ll recognize a few favorites for the local Honolulu Anti- Rail Awards…Best Actor in a Supporting Role…Best Original Screenplay…Best Original Song…Best Actor…

In our review of the sub-consultant’s invoices for services, we found that RTD and HART approved payments totaling $563,568 for services and deliverables that included the blog posts with inappropriate and questionable content. Furthermore, most of the sub-consultant’s invoices lacked details on the actual services provided. Although HART lacked adequate documentation to determine if the blog services and posts were appropriate, the payments to the sub-consultant were approved.

The 'blogger' is Doug Carlson.  Carlson announced his departure for California at the completion of his contract, but his yes2rail.blogspot.com site is still up on the internet.  Carlson's final post, written two days after the August 11, 2012 Mayoral Primary, explains his function with perfect clarity:

"Yes2Rail Ends Its 4-Year Run with This Observation: With Pro-Rail Candidates Having Won the Primary Election, 55-to-45 Percent, the Project's Public Involvement Team Obviously Has Been Doing Its Job"

The Auditor's report reveals:

In July 2012, HART acknowledged that it had too many staff and sub consultants related to public involvement. HART’s CEO commented that while heavier levels of public outreach may have been needed in the early years for planning and during the extensive public input process for the Environmental Impact Statement, it was time to scale back on public involvement resources. As a result, HART eliminated eight sub-consultants and cut the number of other subcontracts in half, with projected savings of $2.8 million.

And Carlson, in August, 2012, responded to the cuts:

...But as they say, no good deed goes unpunished, and the rail project’s public involvement team was "whacked" this summer, to use Civil Beat's word. Those of us whose involvement with rail ends this month leave knowing the mission was accomplished....

Despite the media's laid-back reporting and the opponents’ anti-rail rhetoric, residents ... gave the pro-rail candidates more votes than the would-be rail killer.

That's a good note for rail's public involvement team to leave on.

Carlson was not alone.  The Audit report reveals a list of paid pro-rail 'team' members for investigators to cross-reference:

In GEC I, there were 10 public involvement sub-consultants: LKG-CMC, Inc.; Accucopy Consulting Group, LLC; Carlson Communications; Community Outreach Associates, LLC; Dahl Consulting; Gary K. Omori LLC; John F. Desoto; Lychee Productions; Pat Lee & Associates, LLC; and Red Monarch Strategies, Inc....

In GEC II, there were ten public involvement sub-consultants: LKG-CMC, Inc.; Carlson Communications; Community Outreach Associates, LLC; Gary K. Omori LLC; Global Teach, Inc.; John Desoto; Lychee Productions; MM Pictures LLC; Pat Lee & Associates, LLC; and Red Monarch Strategies, Inc.

There's much, much more, including numerous labor law and tax code violations, contractors supervising themselves and other conflicts of interest, incompetence, overpriced office space, 14 recommendations, and a 15 page response signed by HART CEO Daniel Grabauskas. 

Read it all >>> HERE.

---30---

Background: UPDATE: Audit of HART Propaganda Machine to be Released in December 

CB: Honolulu Rail Audit: Too Many Consultants, Too Little Accountability

SA: Expenses for "public involvement" work have seen "minimal accountability," a report says

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