Council grills mayor’s lobbyist

  • Andy Levin

HILO — Mayor Harry Kim’s lobbyist to the state Legislature appeared before a more local body Wednesday, where he defended his track record and pledged better communication with the County Council.

The council’s Committee on Governmental Relations and Economic Development asked contractor Andy Levin to explain the administration’s priorities after an entire session of the state Legislature went by last year with scant, if any, communication between the council and the lobbyist.

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“We don’t want to be in a legislative session where the administration and council are butting heads on a specific issue,” said Kona Councilman Dru Kanuha, who’s president of the Hawaii State Association of Counties, the group representing the state’s four county councils at the Legislature.

Levin emphasized Wednesday he works for the mayor and Corporation Counsel, not the County Council. He said he’ll also be representing the mayor at community meetings.

Still, he said, he welcomes council members’ input.

Kim, who has Levin track bills and write testimony, doesn’t like to call Levin a lobbyist. But Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy sees him that way, and she questioned why he hasn’t registered as such.

The Hawaii State Ethics Commission’s Lobbying Registration and Reporting Manual exempts “Any federal, state, or county official or employee acting in an official capacity, unless the federal, state, or county official or employee contracts for the services of a lobbyist.”

Registered lobbyists are required to submit regular reports detailing how much they spend on lobbying activities.

Corporation Counsel Joe Kamelamela said his research shows registration isn’t required.

Lee Loy disagrees.

“I don’t think it hurts to follow state statutes,” Lee Loy said. “The mayor advocates for transparency in government … I just don’t think it hurts. It goes a long way.”

Levin, who served as executive assistant for Kim for his first two terms, is a former county councilman and state legislator.

He’ll be paid $10,000 monthly for the four months encompassing the regular legislative session that runs Jan. 17 to May 3.

Levin last year had a $16,000-per-month contract through April 21 as a legislative assistant. During that time, he tracked bills, kept county officials in the loop about important legislation and wrote testimony, Kim said.

Kim’s use of 89-day short-term contracts is allowed under state law. But it didn’t sit well with the County Council, especially when Kim early in his term used the contracts to hire former employees he acknowledged were old friends.

In response, the council unanimously approved a bill requiring Human Resources to inform the council about any nonemergency employment contracts of fewer than 90 days if they’re $2,500 a month or more. Kim signed the bill.

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In addition, the council is to receive quarterly reports detailing “the name and the qualifications of the temporary employee, the cost of the contract, the service to be performed and an explanation of why existing county personnel is unable to provide that service,” according to the new law.

Lee Loy, the bill sponsor, asked Levin to brief the council.