HART Slashes Rail PR Budget—But Only After Primary
by John Bond
Honolulu rail officials, facing criticism for their massively bloated public relations budget, today canceled the contracts for eight of its public outreach specialists, in a move that will save $2.8 million of Oahu tax-payers money that has been handed out to pro-rail cronies, bloggers and political campaigns that support rail.
This massive con scheme has yet to be audited and likely has illegal aspects yet to be revealed. Daniel Grabauskas, the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation's CEO, said most of the PR contracts were signed years ago when during the planning and public input stages for the $5.3 billion project. Now that the project is heading toward the construction phase, "most of the contracts ... are no longer necessary," Grabauskas said.
$2.8 Million is just loose change in a $5.3 billion budget where heavy rail construction will cost $300-$400 million a mile, allowing for all sorts of money pits and rat holes. This current PR ploy is all for show. There should be an immediate audit to locate all of the organizations and local politicians that have been paid off by the "public outreach" con scheme and all of the companies and subsidiaries involved in this corrupt use of public tax money.
"I share the public's concern that we currently have too many sub consultants and staff in public involvement," Grabauskas said. "While heavier levels of public outreach may have been needed in the early years for planning and during the extensive public input process for the Environmental Impact Statement, it is time to scale back our public involvement resources." Only after being called out and embarrassed by Councilman Tom Berg did Grabauskas come to this public relations conclusion. This is not an immediate cancellation- it takes effect after the primary election so that funds can continue to flow to pro-rail campaigns, sign wavers and door to door pro-rail intimidators.
Honolulu City Councilmember Tom Berg believes that it is not enough and says more staff members, should receive pink slips. In a statement, Berg said, "With the exorbitant salary Grabauskas receives, he should serve as the conduit to engage the public as to what is going on with the rail project."
Doug Carlson is a pro-rail blogger, attacker of mayoral candidate Ben Cayetano and recently moved to the Mainland yet was receiving public tax money for his "services”.
"So he's not even here in Hawaii so I actually thought the more important factor to me was I didn't think it was appropriate to have someone who didn't live in Hawaii, blogging about Hawaii," said Grabauskas.
The remaining 9.5 full-time public involvement employees, include a webmaster and 24-hour hotline operators, workers that the head of HART claims are necessary.
In a memo to HART's board, listed the subcontractors that would be affected by the move. They include:
- Former Honolulu City Councilman John Desoto, $57,000;
- Doug Carlson, longtime public relations consultant and former journalist, $351,000;
- Former television journalist and media buyer Laura Pennington's Lychee Productions Inc., $1.2 million;
- Bennette Evangelista's firm Red Monarch Communications will also lose its contract, $168,000.
The City should be doing the same starting with Wayne Yoshioka. The City needs a person who is competent and aware of the transportation requirements of the City and not someone whose only task is to infuriate bus riders. Those who currently use the mass transportation currently in place to get the people to and from their working place, so they can pay taxes which the City and State needs to survive in the first place.
The main purpose of the rail project all along has been to pass out money to people who are political "insiders". It has nothing to do with making our lives better. It's a money bag that politicians reach into and pull out dollars to throw at friends and cronies. Millions have been wasted to convince the public about rail and we are still not convinced.