HILO — There will be no special subcommittee to hash out the budget outside public review, at least for the time being.
Faced with mostly dubious Finance Committee members, Kohala Councilman Tim Richards agreed Tuesday to postpone the measure until it’s brought back up by Finance Chairwoman Maile David, who said she’d reconsider it after Mayor Harry Kim presents his proposed budget March 1.
Richards said he wasn’t looking to “do backroom deals,” but he wanted to find a more efficient way for the council to tackle a budget that’s likely to go over $500 million this year.
He asked for an ad hoc committee of four of the nine council members to meet with top administrators and, together, present a budget plan the rest of the council could discuss and vote on.
“The idea is not to hide anything, by no means, it’s the ability to brainstorm,” Richards said.
The state Sunshine Law allows a subcommittee of less than a voting majority to meet privately to investigate matters and make recommendations to the full board provided the scope of the investigation and scope of each member’s authority is defined at a public meeting of the board. The subcommittee must present its findings at another public meeting of the board.
But an apparent majority of council members seemed opposed to the concept, and several others said they’d support it if the public could still participate.
“The public has the right to be involved in something we’re going to empty their pockets on,”said Council Chairwoman Valerie Poindexter, who opposes the measure.
Puna Councilwoman Eileen O’Hara also opposed it.
“I don’t want this railroaded by a committee that I might not agree with,” O’Hara said. “We already have a committee. It’s called the County Council.”
Hilo council members Sue Lee Loy and Aaron Chung favored the subcommittee.
Chung said having the public weigh in on the budget often took up more time than it was worth. The public, he said, tended to focus on specific line items such as animal control that may be important to them, but minor in the overall scheme of the budget.
“We spend too much time with the public testimony,” Chung said, suggesting perhaps the council should have public testimony at the end of the meeting instead of the beginning.
Lee Loy and Puna Councilwoman Jen Ruggles said the current process of budget tweaking simply isn’t working. Ruggles wanted assurances, however, that the public could still participate.
The council ends up spending long hours in discussion and making crucial decisions when they’re too tired to think clearly, they said.
“My colleagues want to go down the same train tracks that have been laid for them,” Lee Loy said, “but I’m willing to step outside the box.“