Council votes to accept $5.3 million for police overtime

After months of delays and revisions, the Hawaii County Council finally approved a deal between the county and the state for reimbursement of police overtime costs incurred during the Thirty Meter Telescope protests on Maunakea last year.

During a meeting Wednesday, the council voted unanimously in favor of a bill and a companion resolution that together authorize the county to accept $5,342,262 from the state as reimbursement for police overtime costs incurred between July 15 and Dec. 31 of last year — a period of increased traffic enforcement on Daniel K. Inouye Highway as protesters occupied a camp on Maunakea Access Road.

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A previous incarnation of the deal was first brought before the council in December and would have reimbursed the county up to $10 million, but the council rejected the deal because of ambiguity in the terms.

Specifically, the earlier deal included a stipulation that the agreement last for five years, during which time the surplus funds would be used for unclear purposes. Worrying that the extended agreement could force county police to provide security for TMT construction convoys or other projects in the future, the council rejected the deal.

The new version of the deal now only accepts the exact sum of the overtime costs incurred between July 15 and Dec. 31, and does not include the five-year stipulation.

Puna Councilman Matt Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder, who was one of the more vocal opponents of the previous deal, questioned during Wednesday’s meeting whether the terms of the deal can still be changed at a later date without the approval of the council.

County Corporation Counsel Joe Kamelamela confirmed that it cannot, and any future changes to the deal must come before the council for approval.

Council Vice Chairwoman Karen Eoff was pleased by the extended procedure, calling the reimbursement saga “a good exercise in public participation.”

While the current COVID-19 pandemic caused the TMT protesters to dismantle their camp on Maunakea Access Road in March, leaders of that protest supported the reimbursement deal.

On Facebook, protest leader Noe Noe Wong-Wilson urged protesters to submit testimony in support of the deal in advance of Wednesday’s meeting.

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“A strong message must also be given that the Hawaii County administration must follow the rule of law in the future and seek permission to enter into such agreements before incurring the cost,” Wong-Wilson wrote. “This is the method which provides for the community to provide input into the decision-making processes which govern us.”

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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