Hawaii Electric Light Co. has sent what it describes as its “final offer” to the Country Club-Hawaii condominium on Banyan Drive, seeking payment of $100,000 by the end of business today to keep the lights on.
Meanwhile, Kona Circuit Judge Ronald Ibarra became the last of the four Big Island circuit judges to recuse himself from a civil lawsuit brought by a group led by Carl Oguss that describes itself as the board of apartment owners of the building against the property’s master leaseholder, Herbert Arata, his wife Alyce Arata, and others, seeking control of the complex. Arata and the building’s management recognizes another board led by Pearl Elena Macomber.
It is unclear why the judges have recused themselves from the case.
The case has been referred to Les Oshiro, 3rd Circuit courts administrator, who will appoint a judge, likely from off-island, a development that Oguss called a victory for his group.
“Ibarra didn’t give us a chance to present our full arguments when we had the hearing about a month ago,” he said.
A receiver was to have been appointed in the case but the parties couldn’t agree to an individual and Ibarra disqualified himself without appointing one, Oguss said.
A March 17 letter from David Kurohara, HELCO’s customer service manager, put the total amount due for the building’s electric bill was $212,385.41. The letter states that the utility’s final offer is a $100,000 payment by Tuesday, plus payment of “the monthly current billed amount, plus $25,000.” The utility attached a notice that the electricity would be shut off at 11 a.m. Wednesday if payment isn’t made.
The letter was addressed to Oguss, Richard Emery, president of Hawaii First, the building’s management company, and Kevin Aoki, principal broker of Property Professionals LLC, the building’s former management. Aoki, who is Arata’s nephew, and Property Professionals, are both defendants in Oguss’ group’s suit.
“The additional $25,000 will be applied to your delinquent amount, until the delinquent amount has been paid in full,” Kurohara wrote. “… Failure to make a payment by the due date will result in termination of your electrical service. Furthermore, we will post a notice in the common areas of the premises and make available a notice to the respective tenants, prior to electrical service termination ….” A copy of that notice, which was attached to the letter, states that electricity will be shut off at 11 a.m. Wednesday if the payment isn’t made.
Oguss said his board is paying 90 percent of the maintenance fees it receives from owners accused the utility of being “impatient” and “not negotiating in good faith.”
“It is a violation of their fiduciary duty to their stockholders to reject payment plans that work, that pay off 100 percent, and have to insist of a lump-sum payment up front which is impossible. It’s not negotiating in good faith when you demand the impossible and reject workable plans,” he said.
Oguss said his group’s lawyer, Peter Steinberg, is prepared to file for an injunction if HELCO turns the lights out.
“I’m worried to tell you the truth,” Oguss said. “Aside from the occasional owner, the majority seems to think that HELCO can’t shut people down in a condominium and I don’t think that’s true. I’m worried.”
Oguss added that he worked out a deal with HELCO about two weeks ago, but blamed the “old board” and owners who have chosen not to pay either board for the building’s current electrical predicament. He said he’s given owners who don’t want to pay maintenance fees to either board during the dispute the option to make payments directly or indirectly to HELCO.
“I wasn’t promising 100 percent from my subset from the association. I was promising it from both boards thinking that if we went to the judge and said here we have a plan acceptable to our board, acceptable to HELCO, the only problem is the other board is refusing to honor it, please compel them. And given that it was reasonable and there was money in the association to pay, a judge would likely do that.”
Macomber said she believes that a deal is still doable but apartment owners who have not been paying maintenance fees “need to get that straightened out, get the monies into the hands of the right board or the right property management and let them manage everything.”
“About one-fourth is paying our board, about one-fourth was paying Oguss’ board, and then the other half, they don’t know what’s going on because there’s been so much letters that have been circulating,” she said. “So the other half don’t know who is the correct board and they don’t want to make any payments.”
Macomber blamed Oguss for the electrical gridlock.
“He’s caused so many owners so much grief here at the Country Club,” she said.
Voicemail messages on Sunday to Emery, HELCO President Jay Ignacio and Kristen Okinaka, the utility’s senior communication consultant, were not returned in time for this story.
Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune- herald.com.