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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, February 7, 2002

State of the City broadcasts cost taxpayers $21,000

By Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser City Hall Writer

Taxpayers paid $21,000 to produce and air a 30-minute version of Mayor Jeremy Harris' State of the City speech on four commercial television stations last week, a move questioned by the citizens advocacy group Common Cause Hawai'i.

Over the last four years, city officials have accepted donations from sponsors, including unions, landowners and hotels, to air the annual speech on commercial stations.

City spokeswoman Carol Costa, who heads the Department of Customer Services, points to the city charter for authorization for the expense. It reads: "For the purpose of informing the public on the activities of the city during a fiscal year, the mayor may use radio and television media, in addition to the publication of the annual written report."

Larry Meacham, spokesman for Common Cause Hawai'i, said the the fact Harris is running for governor raises questions about the expenditure. "Since he has said he's running for governor, just to be safe they probably should have used their campaign funds, because some people could construe it as electioneering," he said.

Costa said the program was broadcast on various days last week from 6:30 to 7 p.m. on KHON, KFVE, KHNL and KGMB. She said the city tried to get the same time slot on KITV, but it was not available.

She said the shift from private sponsorship to city money was made as part of a continuing effort to extend the speech to a broader audience and not because of Harris' plan to run for governor.

Costa compared the city speech to the broadcast of the governor's State of the State address, which is shown live during the day by commercial television stations at no cost to the state.

She said the money came from her department, out of the budget for Honolulu Municipal Television, which handles production of other programs about city services.

Costa said the speech also ran on 'Olelo (Channel 54), the public access channel, and is running again tonight at no cost. She said the city has paid to televise reports about city activities "off and on" for years.

"The city charter allows us the opportunity to use television and radio to extend the reach for a year-end report to a greater number of Oahu citizens," Costa said. She said the speech also is made available on the city's Web page.

City Council Budget Committee chairman Steve Holmes said that if the expenditure had required council approval, he probably would have approved it because televising it during the evening hours reaches more residents.

Holmes noted that Harris was criticized in years past for accepting donations to air the speech. "Perhaps it's cleaner to have the mayor pay for it directly," Holmes said.

In 2000, state Campaign Spending Commission executive director Bob Watada said he looked into the matter after some donors called to ask if the expense would be counted as a campaign contribution. Watada yesterday said that inquiry was "inconclusive."

Watada has referred his investigation into Harris campaign finances to city prosecutors.