ON AUDIT of HART PROPAGANDA
by Tom Berg, former Honolulu City Councilman
An audit was released by the Office of the City Auditor, Edwin Young of Honolulu in December of 2013 analyzing the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation’s (HART) public relations and public involvement endeavors.
The results left more questions unanswered than answered. For instance, the following expenditures were omitted from the audit:
1) Norman Mineta, past Secretary of Transportation was paid over $100,000 by the City to testify for less than fifteen minutes before the Honolulu City Council that steel wheels on steel rails was good for Honolulu and his salary was omitted from the audit; and
2) Design, printing, distribution, mailing costs for bi-monthly newsletters promoting rail was omitted from the audit. HART stated at a City Council meeting in 2012 that it only costs them $60,000 to publish a newsletter in color and mail it island wide six times a year and leave hundreds of them at every carnival, parade, city office, and beyond. The books for this expenditure is missing from the audit and to this day, from HART’s own ledgers- as a councilman- if I were to mail a two page color brochure to only voters- 50 thousand recipients- it would cost me over $30k; and
3) HART has refused to disclose the salary paid to former Honolulu Advertiser’s Chief Editor, Jeanne Mariani-Belding, now hired by InfraConsult to act as the head public relations director for rail pursuits. Per the audit, one has to guess that Ms. Mariani-Belding is making $193,000 annually to make a few statements a year to the media. Before working on the rail project, Ms. Mariani-Belding as the head of the newspaper was in charge of what does and does not get published and was instrumental in the effort toward rejecting and omitting all articles and editorials submitted to her that proved heavy rail was a farce for Honolulu and that rail was inferior to Bus Rapid Transit. Ms. Mariani-Belding singlehandedly kept information about the cons and schemes of rail from being printed in the newspaper and subsequently HART hired her after the Honolulu Advertiser and Star Bulletin merged. The salary to Ms. Mariani-Belding is missing from the audit; and
4) A detailed breakdown of who does HART’s website and what they are paid for such task by HART is missing from the ledger and audit perhaps since numerous entities are paid to inform the public on the rail’s construction. Per the contract between HART and Kiewit, in which Kiewit does all the construction for the rail, Kiewit has its own public relations responsibilities to inform the public in advance of all construction endeavors- from road closures, night work, utility interruptions, etc., Kiewit must notify the media and execute its own public notices on such. This expenditure is completely missing in the audit and has not been disclosed by HART; and
5) In 2013, HART renewed a contract with a lobbyist in DC to track the full funding grant agreement (FFGA). This expenditure is missing from the audit. Nowhere, under any historical account, has the federal government ever reneged on a FFGA with any municipality in the USA for any transportation project subsidized. Why then, does HART need to funnel funds to a lobbyist to monitor the federal funds when we already in Hawaii pay four congressional representatives to monitor federal budget bills for us and the FFGA already executed? The answer is that the lobbyist in turn has been caught funneling HART monies into campaign donations to pro-rail candidates for political offices. The audit failed to disclose any and all monies paid by HART to the lobbyist; and
6) The audit fails to disclose numerous subcontractors’ salaries by name and what their functions are related to public relations required by the federal government; and
7) The audit fails to extrapolate and examine all federal requisites for public relation endeavors related to Honolulu’s rail. In other words, at this stage, HART is only responsible for apprising the public of construction endeavors. Yet, HART claims coloring books and other trinkets besides a 24-hour hotline and duplicity of public notices regarding construction pursuits is mandatory per the FFGA and that 8.5 people hired within HART need to be paid over $4 million a year to accomplish this task; and
8) The audit fails to disclose the justification of some 24 hired public relation positions within HART prior to the resolution that called for the audit whereby at many neighborhood board meetings, a representative of HART failed to appear. The audit revealed that HART pays a representative to represent HART at neighborhood board meetings at a salary of over $150,000 per year, but in many instances, the HART representative never showed up to these neighborhood board meetings; and
9) Over the years, numerous television shows promoting HART has been airing on OLELO’s public access community television station whereby all producers and show productions are not to be selling a commercial product for monetary gain- and the audit fails to disclose all expenditures made to pay people to pitch and promote rail as a money making endeavor utilizing OLELO. Former City Councilman John DeSoto was host to many pro rail shows and his compensation for each television show was omitted from the audit.
When one goes over HART’s public relations with a fine toothed comb, it goes beyond monies paid to a blogger such as Carlson who was paid over $500,000 to smear anti-rail candidates on HART’s dime, but it also reeks of graft, corruption, misinformation schemes, ploys, and downright thuggery to push rail at all cost.
If you ever watched the movie, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, HART is no Jimmy Stewart, but rather HART is the antithesis of justice.
Update as of January 3, 2014, - per an email received from Edwin Young, City Auditor for Honolulu, all of the above inquiries are moot and thus, to remain unabated/non-disclosed, not relevant, not of party to the audit – see statement by Mr. Young here:
Good Afternoon Mr. Berg,
Thank you for your phone call and your insights. We are unable to provide the details you are requesting for several reasons: (1) HART came into existence in July 2012; (2) its predecessor (the Rapid Transit Division in the Department of Transportation) was responsible for most of the transactions and expenditures related to your comments; and (3) detailed records related to HART’s predecessor were not readily available during our audit. We will take your comments into consideration and keep them for future reference.
Related: Auditor: HART Paid $563K to Blogger who said Job was 'Obviously' to Help Pro-Rail Candidates