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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, May 18, 2010

No more TV? How about fewer meals?

No, it's not "must-see TV." Few things are as wearying as watching government committee meetings, like the ones held by the Honolulu City Council. But they're available for viewing on community-access TV and they're valuable.

The televised meetings are still the easiest way the public can see what's going on in council committee discussions, which is where the tough questioning occurs, especially between council members and city department officials. By the time the entire council meets, much of the issue-hashing is already history and the members often are racing through up-and-down votes that say very little.

Councilman Nestor Garcia has proposed cutting the $123,000 that pays to broadcast the committee meetings. We're not sure why, since the city budget will balance without the cut.

Garcia's weak justification for the cut seems to be this: If the council is taking a whack at city department spending, the public wants to see some belt-tightening at the council, too. He may be right, but shutting down TV coverage of meetings is the last place to look for savings. We'll ask the obvious question: What are they trying to hide?

Here's a better idea: Reduce the infamous contingency fund the members use for unbudgeted individual expenses. You know, the one that Councilman Rod Tam used to buy meals for his family and friends.

In this category, the council's idea of austerity is to trim $2,000 from a $16,000 allowance. But when The Advertiser did an accounting about six weeks ago, with more than half the year gone, most of the members stood at or below the halfway mark. There were exceptions: Most notably, newcomer Ikaika Anderson had spent $11,372, almost $1,000 more than Chairman Todd Apo.

How about trimming it to $10,000 apiece and saving $54,000?

In short, if we're confronted with the prospect of less lunching and traveling for the council and a TV blackout for the public, it's plain which one is the better choice.