HILO — There was more talk but no action Thursday on overriding Mayor Billy Kenoi’s veto of three bills passed by the Hawaii County Council.
In three 5-3 votes, the council voted to delay action on the bills, relating to geothermal power and long-term retiree benefit payments, because of the absence of Pahoa councilman Fred Blas who was attending a meeting in Honolulu.
The council meeting lacked a picket promised by supporters of the geothermal bills and a large turnout of Puna residents commenting on the legislation. Twenty-one signed up to testify, compared to the several dozen who packed recent meetings.
But that didn’t prevent the fireworks between Chairman Dominic Yagong, who introduced all three bills and made the motions to postpone, and Hilo Councilman Dennis Onishi.
Onishi, apparently frustrated by the prospects of continuing the matter, questioned whether the chairman had violated the state’s sunshine law, which in part prevents the council members from coordinating votes before a meeting.
He submitted the small turnout of testifiers as evidence.
“Someone leaked out this postponement,” Onishi said. “I think there is … a possibility of a sunshine law violation. I think we need someone to come and do an investigation.”
Yagong wasted no time before confronting Onishi, saying he could have only violated the law by securing votes outside of a meeting.
“If there is any council member, let’s make it absolutely clear, at this precise minute come forward and say I called them for support,” he said. “I want them to speak right now because that did not happen.”
No one spoke.
The proposed veto overrides will be addressed again Aug. 1.
Council members J Yoshimoto, Donald Ikeda and Onishi voted against the motions to postpone.
The two geothermal bills would mainly allow the county’s geothermal royalty account to fund new health studies relating to Puna Geothermal Venture, prevent the county from reselling properties acquired through its geothermal relocation program, and require a site-specific evacuation and emergency response plan for all current and future geothermal power plants.
The council adopted both bills last month.
The royalty account amendments passed 6-3; the evacuation bill passed 7-2.
Kenoi said he thinks the bills are unnecessary since the county has measures to follow in case of a geothermal disaster and he thinks that a health study called for by some Puna residents could be covered by a separate account, known as the geothermal asset fund.
The mayor also vetoed another bill that would have required any fund balance in excess of $5 million be applied to a county employee retiree benefits account, known as GASB 45, until 50 percent of the actuary recommended payment has been made.
Payments to that account have become one of the main issues in the mayoral campaign as Yagong, who is one of Kenoi’s challengers, has said the administration is neglecting its financial obligations by deferring $34 million in payments to the account in the last two years.
Kenoi has countered that the county is meeting all of its obligations for retired employees and that the account is only meant to cover long-term increases in health insurance costs.
The bill passed in a 5-4 vote last month.