by Rep Charles Djou, www.Djou.com
Aloha! Throughout my public career I have always pushed for a more responsive, accountable and fiscally responsible government.
On Tuesday, Hawaii Reporter published an editorial I wrote on the failure of responsive government in Hawaii with a one-party congressional delegation, as witnessed through the difficulties faced by the East-West Center in Congress.
Yesterday, the Honolulu Star Advertiser published an editorial I wrote highlighting my concerns with a lack of government accountability at the Board of Water Supply. The unedited commentary I wrote is reprinted below.
Tomorrow, look for a new editorial in Pacific Business News on problems with fiscal responsibility in our government.
CITY COUNCIL NEEDS TO REIN IN THE BOARD OF WATER SUPPLY
The Honolulu Board of Water Supply (BWS) is out of control. Over the past several years, BWS has had problems with over-paying management, vague workplace rules and lax fiscal standards. Worst of all, this agency suffers from a level of arrogance inappropriate for a public agency.
The time has come for the City Council to re-examine the level of oversight it should be exercising over BWS' operations. Currently, the mayor appoints and the City Council confirms the members of the board. Unfortunately, the mayor and City Council have failed to hold the board accountable or carefully scrutinize its spending habits.
Today, BWS is asking the public to stomach a whopping 70% increase in water rates. If any other public body, whether it be the US Congress, the state legislature or the City Council, were to seek a 70% increase in taxes the response by the public at the polls would be swift and clear.
If BWS actually needs a 70% increase for repairing our water system, the city council needs to call BWS management on the carpet to ask how and why maintenance was neglected for so long and matters were allowed to fall into such a terrible state of disrepair. If a 70% is not needed, and BWS is only asking for a financial “cushion” for prospective future work, the city council needs to ask management why they think this rate increase is a good idea to foist upon local families in the middle of a recession. In either case, this is a clear sign of poor management at BWS.
In 2006, a major Honolulu Advertiser investigative story revealed over half-a-million dollars were awarded to BWS executives as bonuses, an amount more than all other City agencies combined. Later that year the City Auditor also released a critical report showing poor fiscal controls and general neglect of the City’s water system at BWS. It has taken management nearly five years to finally address problems identified long ago by the auditor at BWS.
Almost every public agency, local family and small business over the past several years has tightened its budget. People have consistently been asked to do much more with much less. Smaller staffs, more outsourcing and an overall budget squeeze are the norm everywhere in Hawaii. Because BWS controls its own budget and has its own funding source, BWS has not gone through the same fiscal tightening almost every other Hawaii family and public agency has gone through. Before asking the public to take a 70% rate hike, BWS needs to show the public that it has reduced the size of its workforce and eliminated all unnecessary expenses, such as public affairs lobbying, just as every other agency and family has done.
BWS, however, seems not to care as they are not accountable to the public and the City Council refuses to ask them the hard questions. Over the past several years, BWS has paid tens of thousands of dollars to high-priced lobbyists to court the politicians on the city council. BWS is deathly afraid of the City Council amending the charter to give the council real authority to scrutinize and disapprove BWS’ annual budgets.
Now that BWS is seeking to add to the economic misery in Honolulu with a 70% water rate increase, it is my hope that the council will finally wake up and start asking BWS how it is spending the people’s money. The mayor and city council, for example, should be asking if BWS could save resources by leasing out its expensive downtown headquarters and moving its offices to West Oahu – something that has never been examined. Another avenue to consider is whether BWS can find more savings by privatizing more of its services. Finally, BWS should examine if it can reduce the size of its workforce as every private company in Hawaii has been forced to examine.
Local families and many nonprofit and government agencies in Hawaii have been forced to cut spending in these tough economic times. The time has come for BWS to do the same. The council should consider amending the City Charter to make BWS accountable to the public by requiring City Council approval of BWS' annual budget and of any rate increases proposed by BWS. This is the only way to address BWS' apparent disregard for the public and ultimately make BWS accountable to the people through their elected representatives on the City Council.
In the meantime, the city council needs to haul the senior management of BWS into committee and demand answers as to how BWS management neglected our water system so badly and planned so poorly that a massive 70% rate increase is now necessary. The mayor and city council also need to take a serious look at the current directors and existing senior management of BWS to facilitate needed reform to this quasi-public agency.
Charles K. Djou
Member of Congress, 2010-2011
Hawaii, 1st District