INDEX - KAUAI POLITICSwww.islandbreath.org ID# 0407-03
SUBJECT: COUNTY GOVERNMENT
SOURCE: RAY CHUAN firstname.lastname@example.org
POSTED: 6 June 2004 - 8:30am
Fiscal Responsibility or Lack Thereof
collage on website of Kauai Property Tax Assessment website
by Ray Chuan on 6 June 2004
The news about the Kauai County Salary Commission’s recommendation that appointed and elected officials, who are not union members and not covered by collective bargaining, should have their salaries substantially raised, brings up some interesting points.
The principal basis for this recommendation is that within the Administration many department and division heads have salaries significantly below those of their subordinates. There are about a dozen second and third tier workers in the county government who earn salaries close to $90,000 a year while their bosses earn almost twenty thousand less. What is totally missing from the thinking of the Salary Commission as well as the Administration officials is the implicitly assumed criterion that what one earns has something to do with one’s performance on the job. The workers covered by collective bargaining are entitled to raises on the basis of years spent on the job, not on performance. The criteria the Salary Commission apparently uses for its recommendations on non-union workers are comparisons with comparable positions in the other counties. Not a word about performance.
As far as the tax-paying public is concerned, performance is obviously measured in terms of the services provided by the county government, compared with the amount of money spent by the taxpayers presumably for the service. It is clearly not easy to make these comparisons of payment versus service in any strictly quantitative way; however, a reasonable measure would be to compare with other counties in the state. Based on published official data some of the comparisons can be made:
Total expenditure: Kauai County will spend $102 million in the coming fiscal year, July 1, 2004 to June 30, 2005. In looking over the spending history we find that from 1997 to 2004 the Kauai County budget has gone up 45%. If this were just due to inflation (which would apply to all the counties equally) the rate of inflation that produces this 45% increase in seven years would be 5.5% each year compounded over seven years. We know very well that the inflation rate has been running at less than 2%. Even if we were to use 2% inflation, allowing no extraordinary expenditure, the rise over seven years would only come up to 15%. Guess what, that’s just what Maui County’s budget figures show.
Another way to compare is on the basis of population. Oahu has roughly twenty times the population of Kauai. Our just approved budget of $102 million when multiplied by 20 would be $2,040 million – or $2,04 billion! Oahu’s latest budget figure, as reported in the news in the last few days, is $1.22 billion.
So, how would our poorly paid Council members (at $28,000 a year, part time, of course) explain this huge difference? I have learned over the last five years of closely watching the budget that our more senior members of the Council are very good at making excuses. Prior to voting on a major bill each Council member would make a speech explaining his or her vote. It is interesting to note, especially in comparing with other legislative bodies, that we never hear any pre-voting speeches touting how our legislators have cut spending. Instead, they make excuses. When I compared our $102 million budget with Oahu’s $1.22 billion Council member Tokioka was quick to expound his economic theory of the “Economy of Scale.” Any thinking person would know that such a theory would lead to absolutely absurd results. For example, applied to a population of 40 million, this theory would result in a budget of $22 billion. Governor Terminator would love to hear about this theory, when his state’s deficit alone is more than double the $22 billion!
The reality on this island is that there is absolutely no control on government spending. To deflect the public’s attention from the real budget mess the Council gets into a big brouhaha with Mayor Baptiste over the number of paid community meeting facilitators he should be allowed. Cutting one position out of the four the Mayor wanted saved $40 thousand. And the Mayor right away went on Hoike to attack the Council. Big deal!! To further demonstrate to the public how careful they are with the public’s money both the Mayor and the Council made a big show of cutting the “Tax Rates”, with the Mayor proposing a twenty cent reduction across the board and the Council joining in with a further reduction of a few cents on the tax rate for land. Nowhere does anybody mention how many cents out of what. Well, there are a total of sixteen tax rates with this county’s tax formula, eight applied to land assessed valuation and eight applied to building. These rates run from a low of $3.64 (per thousand of building assessment) to a high of $8.55 (per thousand of land assessment.) I think the Council offered a cut of 30 cents out of the land tax rate. Whatever these reductions are applied to, the reality is that the lowering of the resultant tax bill comes to about 3%. This after they raised the over-all property tax by an average of 23%!! (Mine was raised 40%!) Honest government?
I commented at the budget meeting of the Council that as long as they were concentrating on the alleged importance of single individual cases how about the “new hire” of a Planning Inspector III in the Planning Department, replacing the incumbent Planning Inspector II. The Inspector II had been on the job for seven years. The new Inspector III (the III designation meaning a person with more experience) has no qualification of any kind for the job. My question and comments were met with stony silence. They all knew exactly who I was talking about. They all knew that this was the sequel to a Patronage Job created by Mayor Kusaka when she bumped Ian Costa (then the Deputy Planning Director) off to the Public Works Department as the Deputy County Engineer (a position requiring the person to be a civil engineer which Ian is not) and installed a new Deputy Planning Director (also without the qualification for the job.) Five years later the new mayor gave Ian back his job at the Planning Department along with a promotion to Planning Director. For some reason (that I haven’t figured out, and my un-named Whistle Blower hasn’t enlightened me on) a new Deputy Planning Director was hired early this year, creating a problem for the friend of Kusaka, who reportedly asked her successor to help with finding a job for the Ex-Deputy Planning Director who, after all, had only a couple of years to go before earning full pension (the goal most, if not all County workers aspire to.) When queried about this new job the Mayor’s PR person said the job had been advertised. Indeed it apparently was, for the incumbent Panning Inspector II, who had been on the job for seven years and no doubt thought he would qualify, applied for it. He was told, presumably, that a more qualified person had bee given the job. All this apparently had been decided upon prior to the publication of the budget for the Planning Department which lists just one inspector, a Planning Inspector III.
The cavalier manner in which this whole episode of the new Planning Inspector III has been handled by the former mayor, the current mayor, and the Council, illustrates the depth of corruption of this county government.
Playing With Our Dollars
A patronage job here and there, while a corrupt practice, does not directly amount to much within a hundred million plus budget. There are better ways to play the numbers. Take the example of the Police Department. For several years the department has had fifteen or more unfilled positions among police officers. But the budget duly commits the money for these positions year after year. At the end of a fiscal year the unspent but budgeted money presumably goes into a surplus fund, to be drawn from when the unfilled jobs are filled the next year. With the money in the surplus fund those unfilled positions are still funded in the following year, so there is no need to draw from the surplus fund when a job is filled, with the result that the surplus fund keeps going up year after year, to be used as a slush fund to fund un-budgeted expenditures. From just the Police Department alone there must be at least three quarters of a million every year being added to the Slush Fund. You will therefore see, inevitably every year, the approval by the Council of spending out of the Un-appropriated Surplus for such items as the hiring of outside counsel and paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to consultants for studies (or re-hash) of all sorts of things. At a thousand dollars a page in the report, the contents of most of which consist of material stored in the files of the consultants from previous jobs, it’s a lucrative job for the consultants and an easy cop-out for the county from doing things it is unwilling to do itself as well as to delay, again and again, the actual work towards solving a problem.
The eight-year Leaking Kilauea Gym Roof has cost the county (meaning us) hundreds of thousands of dollars in outside counsel and consultants’ fees. The public is continually kept in the dark by the Council hiding in the Executive Sessions, and bamboozled in the open sessions by Council members offering all kinds of excuses for the contractors, for the lawyers (inside and outside), for the highly paid (meaning 80 to 90 thousand a year) and protected county workers. But that is nothing compared to the ever-growing but never explained deficit in the operation of the Solid Waste program that now sits at $7 million a year (out of a total budget at SW of $9 million.)
The number of Executive Sessions keeps increasing. More and better excuses are offered at Open Sessions. The public is kept in the dark on how and why the Kilauea Gym keeps leaking eight years after it was built after Iniki; why the legendary Kauai County Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan of 1994 has never been implemented (although another $300,000 will be spent for another plan) and why there is still not even a site picked out for the new landfill; ….ad nauseum!
Anything Pleasant to Report?
It’s not easy to close my report with anything pleasant or humorous (lest it be dark humor); but I have one this time. At last Thursday’s Council meeting I witnessed the most intelligible, informative, intelligent and productive exchange ever between the Council and the responsible head of a County Department. The occasion was the Council deliberation on the requirements for affordable housing to be provided by the developer of the extensive, expensive and exclusive resort in the Poipu-Koloa area.
Ken Rainsforth, Director of the County Housing Agency, had appeared countless times before the Council to offer routine reports on the work of his Agency, but usually eliciting no response or interest from members of the Council. On this particular occasion, however, led by some intelligent and pointed questioning by JoAnn Yukimura, chair of the Council Planning Committee, a very useful exchange of questions and answers ensued. To every query by the Council there was a clear, direct, succinct and informative answer, quite the antithesis of the usual unintelligible and unresponsive mumbles or spin from such highly paid senior officials as those from the Public Works, Planning and County Attorney Departments. I was so taken by this unexpected turn of events that in my euphoria I actually said that I was beginning to feel optimistic about this government.
Lest I get further carried away by such euphoria, I better quit now
SUBJECT: COUNTY GOVERNMENT
SOURCE: RAY CHUAN email@example.com
More Wheel Spinning
17 April 2004 - 9:30am
Historic Kauai County Government Building in Lihue
by Ray Chuan on 16 April 2004
Yesterday’s Council (4/15/2004) meeting was Classic Kauai Government at work.
• Council making a show of caring about problems on this island.
• The Administration thumbing its nose at Council, while not answering any of the questions directed at it.
• Council expressing outrage.
• Council does nothing about anything, by not exercising the only effective tool it has to deal with the situation – the purse string.
The item that triggered this show was the eight-year-old leak in the Kilauea Gym. This was a new gym built after Iniki. It leaked. The floor got wet, making it unsafe for ball players. (A boy recently broke his leg slipping on the floor) For eight years it has leaked while the Public Works Dept (an operation without a head for two years and a deputy head who is not qualified-being a lawyer instead of a civil engineer- but happily running a $34 million a year operation, the largest by far in the county government) diddled, while its Building Division is busy promoting what has come to be a Sacred Cow – the Bike Path around the island, with help from the Finance Dept (a $15 million operation) through its Purchasing Division (which doesn’t know how to write a contract that protects the interest of the County), and more help from the County Attorney’s Office (with seven lawyers but minus one who has inexplicably become the Deputy County Engineer) which, at the slightest hint of having to deal with legal matters, rushes to get outside counsel (the cost of which in a year is typically a fifth to a quarter of its budget)
From time to time the Council would ask Public Works to give a status report on the Leak, with no intelligible response. This time round the request was responded to by the appearance by none other than the hybrid lawyer/engineer who bowls the Council members over with her commanding manners and impeccable elocution of platitudes. She informed the Council:
1. She has thirty boxes of documents to go over to understand the problems.
2. She cannot divulge the department’s strategy in dealing with the Leak, except in Executive Session.
3. “Our intention is to repair the leak immediately!”
While she was in her spin act the Council’s staff handed the Council Chair and members some fresh off the mint documents from the Mayor’s Office. The audience was then offered the only excitement of the day when Chair Kaipo Asing stopped the proceedings to announce that “I am mad! I am really mad!!” Without divulging the contents of these obviously exciting documents from the Mayor the Chair explained that he was MAD because these were answers to questions he had put to the Mayor many months ago. At this moment the members of the Council seemed to be at a loss for words; even the former mayor who now sat as Council member was speech-less.
This remarkable display of government dysfunction ended anticlimactically with a vote to defer the matter.
One has to wonder if other governments operate the same way. Does the legislative branch of the government have not only oversight over the executive branch but fiscal control as well? Yes, but not here on Kauai. With perhaps one rare exception in my memory. That was the Red Chrysler episode a few years back when the Council, which was clearly not on good terms with Her Majesty Mayor Kusaka, denied her request for funds to lease her a Red Chrysler to replace her Cadillac. Come to think of it, that was probably the only exciting event in this government in the past decade. That deletion of a money request did not, however, in any way affect the ever growing spending of this county, by 160% over the Kusaka years. It seemed that a bit of collective personal peeve did not get in the way of continuing the cordial relationship between the two branches of government that allows them, each year at budget time, to manipulate the real property assessment game and the perfunctory adoption of the tax rates in such a way as to assure that the Mayor gets whatever he or she needs.
The sad part of this real life story is that we allow it to go on. In the particular case of the Leaky Gym the community of Kilauea, had it been anywhere by Kauai, would have stormed the Mayor’s office. No one from Kilauea was present yesterday to witness the drama. I can only recall two instances in more than three decades when the public stormed the Mayor’s office. Nukoli`I in the seventies (over the development of a new resort – now the Radisson) and Hanalei in the nineties (over commercial boating, which was forcefully reduced from over fifteen hundred paying passengers a day to about eighty.)
What to do, what to do? Something to contemplate as we witness the Kauai County Government playing out its charade of balancing the budget and Council members prepare, not exactly spiritedly (because they probably don’t need to) for elections in November.
SUBJECT: COUNTY GOVERNMENT
SOURCE: RAY CHUAN firstname.lastname@example.org
POSTED: 6 April 2004 - 9:00am
Budgetary Review Sessions
Website logo of the County Finance Department
by Ray Chuan on 5 April 2004
The phone calls kept coming; clearly more people are being hurt by the runaway escalation in property assessment, while the Council continues to do nothing about it, either in watching the budget or in finding ways to protect the long-time resident.
Now it is the time to give you a report on the Great Rite of Spring of the County of Kauai – euphemistically referred to as Myth Number One in my March 16 communication. I have attended two sessions so far, which is about all I can stomach. But let me at least amuse you with a report.
To appreciate the budgeting process one has to spend quite a bit of time poring over almost two hundred pages of print-out, while also becoming somewhat acquainted with some of the gross numbers. The latest figure on the total property assessment for Kauai stood at 29% higher than last year which was 13.5% higher than the year before. Last year the county collected $47 million in real property tax (which accounts for about 50% the total spending, the other 50% not being controllable by the county). This means the county can increase its spending by 14.5% without having to raise the Tax Rates. Conversely, the county can keep its spending unchanged from last year and lower the tax rate by 29%. Think of all the votes you can get if you were running for office this year? Well, the Mayor is not running for re-election this year and all the Council incumbents are secure in their seats. However, just to show compassion for the poor suffering taxpayers the Mayor is proposing decreasing the tax rate by 20 cents. But, 20 cents from what? There you are, leaving out a word (like the word rate from tax rate) here and a number there will do the trick. The current tax rates – sixteen of them - range from $3.64 per thousand (of Net Assessed Valuation) to $8.55. A reduction of 20 cents then amounts to 5% to 2% of rate reduction – far far from the 29% reduction that the new assessment can support.
I went to the Planning Department budget review last Friday (April 2nd). This is the department that is presumably the most import in the county from the standpoint of our long term development, but it is the smallest department with a budget running at around $750,000 per year, compared to Finance at $15 million and Public Works at $34.21 million. (Public Works has not had a chief for two years and no real deputy chief for almost that long. Currently there is still no chief, and the deputy chief is a transfer, a junior attorney, from the County Attorney’s office.)
While scrutinizing the details of the Planning budget I immediately spotted an increase of almost half a million which, unfortunately, is only entitlement for some consultants to do another study of sorts. Then I spotted a new position of a Planning Inspector III. The current Inspector is grade II. That sounded good, since this inspector is responsible for the Special Management Area enforcement, a job of such importance that the EPA funds, through the state, part of this position’s salary.
According to the budget there will not be an Inspector II after June 30, indicating the current inspector (who has at least two decades of experience) is leaving or retiring. Upon inquiring I learned that the new Inspector III may well be the metamorphosis of the incumbent Deputy Planning Director (at a salary of $64k) into the new Inspector III (at a salary of $35k). Verrry interesting!! After posing the questions I got no answer or any kind of response from the Council. I doubt the Council will try or want to find the answer when it again meets the Planning people during what is called a “Callback Session.”
We’ll just let the speculations simmer for now. Remember, however, an experienced and proactive inspector is what the county needs to enforce its rules and, especially, its environmental laws (under authority delegated to it by the EPA, which naturally has an interest in this puzzle.)
As more is revealed I will try to shed some light on the subject.
The next review I attended was of the Public Works Dept. As I said, the department has had no County Engineer (the chief administrative officer of this $35 million operation) since about May, 2002; and no real, or effective, or qualified Deputy County Engineer since 1998, except for about six months in 2003 when there was, briefly, a qualified civil engineer in that position, who resigned to work for the Water Department. One of the attorneys in the County Attorney’s office was, for whatever reason, then, assigned to the position of the Deputy County Engineer. This is very interesting. Here is this $35 million enterprise with nobody at the head, an architect (from the Planning Dept) as the deputy (a job that requires the credentials of a civil engineer) for five years, a real civil engineer for six months and now a lawyer.
Has the County Council, in its oversight role, raised any questions about this weird arrangement? No.
Of course, it was during a good part of this strange period that the disaster at Pila`a took place which, presently, compelled the Kauai County Government to do something, since it was largely the absence of enforcement of the laws that allowed the disaster to happen. The “doing something” took the shape of the County eventually joining in the Limu Coalition/Kilauea Neighborhood Association lawsuit against Pflueger, and putting on some high profile enforcement actions this past year, while the Council worked for almost a year to amend the Grading/Grubbing Ordinance – without, however, anyway to enforce the new laws because the Public Works Dept has not, and probably will not for some years, to develop the necessary Administrative Rules to implement the amended ordinance.
The budget review of the Public Works Dept began with a presentation by the Deputy County Engineer/Attorney. On could detect immediately that this hybrid deputy is different from all the other officials from the Public Works Department who had spoken to the Council. She is articulate. Her speech is easily intelligible. Her manners commanding. As befits a contemporary executive, she opened with a Mission Statement, of course.
Manage our controllable costs.
Increase efficiency in use of personnel.
I jotted down in my notebook the following comment:
“The most elegant elocution of platitudes I have heard in a long time; worthy of the best politicians!”
The Council seemed to be impressed. There was no question, no challenge, no request for specificity.
This interesting encounter reminded me of the experience of a former head of the National Institutes of Health, who had headed an important laboratory at Stanford before accepting the job at the NIH. The NIH consists of seven or eight institutes, each specializing in one particular area of health issues. As is the custom in a large institution, the new head was taken to visit the various institutes. At one after another he was greeted with a formulaic intonation of the particular institute’s Mission Statement, until at about the fourth stop when, out of patience, the new director blurted out:
“What the hell is all this mission business? I just want to know what you do at this institute! "
Had I been a member of the Kauai County Council I would have asked, among possibly dozens, the following questions:
How the hell do you run a $35 million operation like Public Works without a civil engineer, as, in fact, the Kauai County Charter specifically requires?
How the hell do you explain why an Enterprise Fund (which is defined as an operation that pays for itself) like the Solid Waste Program takes in $2,440,600 but spends $8,326,569?
How the hell do you explain how and why you take $5,885,969 out of the General Fund to make up the deficit of 71% of the total Solid Waste operation? And why every year this deficit which is made up from the General Fund keeps on increasing by half a million dollars or more?
How the hell do you justify advertising for a consultant to do another Solid Waste Management Plan, for $300,000 when the Yukimura administration’s 1994 $150,000 Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan has not been implemented after ten years?
How the hell do you explain why you are still piling a hundred fifty tons of trash on top of the Kekaha Landfill when by your own figures and forecasts over at least the past five years that landfill has only five days life left?
Unlike the head of the NIH, the Council did not ask these questions and many many more.
How about the other Enterprise Funds? Like Golf, which will cost $1,771,664 to operate, but takes in only $1,389,608, for a deficit of $389,508, or a 22% loss. Looks like the General Fund is a slush fund from which money can be transferred to balance the budget. A neat trick!
On paper the Sewer Fund appears to break even, but only by charging the highest sewer rate in the nation! At $510 a year it compares with the next highest of $413 for San Diego, or with one of the lowest in the nation of $84 a year for Los Angeles County. Another feature of this one successful Enterprise Fund is that there’s almost a million dollars worth of unpaid bills. One wonders what kind of creative accounting method will be invoked to take care of this?
The reality is that one can ask these questions of every operation of this county and expect to get no answer. Some council members will protest against criticism by telling the public how hard they work during these days of budget review. Just attendance at any one of these sessions will tell you that outside of some trivial questions the council majority will invariably pass the budget presented by the administration .
The only difference this year is that they can proudly announce that they are reducing the tax rate by twenty cents while they actually collect up to $13 million more in property tax than last year!
Remember how the Administration last year announced at the last minute it had found an extra two million dollars in revenue, and then proceeded to spend all of it, the thought of giving that back to the taxpayers never entering their collective heads. I’ll bet that happens again this year. Stay tuned!
This idea of a two million dollar give back may not sound so impressive against a budget that may approach $105 million. When you consider that the much touted Circuit Breaker Tax Relief will only reduce the tax revenue by a quarter million dollars a two million give back sounds pretty darn good.
What you probably also don’t know is that, in order to realize the quarter million in tax relief the taxpayers as a whole have to pay an extra $160,000 (that was requested and approved) to cover the extra labor the County claims will be needed to process the Circuit Breaker Relief.
The name of the game is “You Can’t Win!” until the veils of obfuscation at the Mayor’s Office and the Council Chambers are lifted.
Enough already for one evening! Maybe I’ll bring you better news next week.
I attended this week I would like to post here a notice regarding the correct deadline for filing the assessment appeal. On the back side of the assessment notice this date was listed as April 12, 2004. When one picks up the form for filing the appeal the due date on the form is April 9 (no year stated) A department secretary explained to me that the form is old and nobody checked the date, and not realizing the April 9, 2003 is Good Friday, and a Kauai County holiday.
Since I had received a number of calls about the discrepancy in dates I thought it would be a good idea for the County to issue a correction notice.
Unfortunately, my simple and modest suggestion that the county ought to correct the confusion was met with hostility, derision and outright rudeness from the manager of the Assessors Office. Repulsed, I went over to the Mayor’s Public Information Officer who jotted down a few words on a note pad. Not unexpectedly, there was nothing in the paper this morning about a correction.
For the benefit of those who are planning to appeal their property assessment, then, let it be known that the deadline for filing is April 12, 2004. And, don’t bother to call the county on April 9, for our county doesn’t miss a chance on having a day off, whether it is a sectarian religious holiday or not.
SUBJECT: COUNTY GOVERNMENT
SOURCE: RAY CHUAN email@example.com
POSTED: 17 March 2004 - 9:00am
Close up on Kauai Politics
Rotunda of the County Building in Lihue
by Ray Chuan on 16 March 2004
The annual ritual of the County’s budgeting process has started, as some of you may have read in today’s Garden Island. We would like to point out some of the myths attached to this game.
Myth Number One: This is a budgeting process like no others in this state or this country. At least for the last ten years that I have observed it, the budgeting process is a joke. While we are reading in the papers how the Honolulu Council is fighting with Mayor Harris over the budget – the spending, the revenue etc, the Legislature is fighting the Governor over the state budget with much serious politics and rancor, all is Peace and Tranquility on the Island of Kauai. We have most of the trappings of a modern democratically elected government, but none or very little of the real actions of such a government. Our legislative branch of the County Government, the County Council, seems to be always rubber stamping whatever the Administration proposes. In other words, the Council does not exercise its power to control the budget.
Myth Number Two: This County has done its best to keep the taxpayers in the dark about how those dollar numbers get printed on their annual property tax bill. You get a little postcard in March announcing the new assessment on your property: so many dollars for the land and so many dollars for the building, and, if you are lucky, how much is taken off these numbers through Exemptions. This little postcard reaches you about the time the Budgeting Process begins. The local newspaper and the public access TV station Hoike tell you absolutely nothing about how the Process proceeds or how you as part of the electorate and the taxpayer might influence it. If you take the time to scan the bulletin boards at the Old County Building you will get totally blinded by the page-overlappping-page of special agendas on budgeting workshops, several a day for weeks. When it is all over you could compare the “final” budget with the original one proposed by the Administration and find hardly any difference. In the case of last year the final one actually came out higher by over $2 million than the original, because the Administration discovered some extra revenue! You’d think they would have used that to reduce the tax burden, right?
Wrong! If there is money they will find ways to spend it! Besides, you would have no way to know how your tax bill gets to where it is, anyway. All other cities, states and counties would show how your assessment becomes your tax by showing the “tax rate”, which is set by the legislative body, and how by multiplying the assessment by the tax rate the tax bill is created. But not here. You get that postcard in March. In August you get the tax bill. Somewhere in between the Council goes through this mysterious and fast moving process called a “Resolution” which establishes the tax rates, of which there are 16, just to confuse you more if you should bother to look at the Resolution. If your tax bill shocks you with a 50% or 300% increase over the previous year you may adopt the common local reaction which is to accept it, as a matter of fate, without protest. If you are agitated enough to complain to the Finance Department you are told, “Too late! You should have complained when you got that postcard in March, and filed for an Appeal!”, to the Appeals Board, made up of your fellow citizens who probably are just as much in the dark about this county’s property tax system as you are – which is why some Board members are known to fall asleep during the Appeals Board meetings. In a way, the decisions of the Appeals Board are rigged anyway. The Tax Office, in estimating the expected property tax revenue for the year, starts out with the total assessments (for which they have complete control), applies the tax rates (which they are pretty sure will be the same as the year before, since the county will always get more revenue as long as the assessments keep going up, so that there is no need to change the tax rates); and then makes a reduction by assuming that a certain percentage of the appeals will be denied.
Myth Number Three: No increase in property tax! Both the Mayor and the Council go through the ritual of announcing at the beginning of the fiscal year (July1) that they, again, “have not raised the property tax!” They have cleverly left out the word “rate.” Without raising the property tax rate while maintaining an ever-increasing assessment the County of Kauai is guaranteed a steady increase in property tax revenue from year to year. The 2003 total assessment was 13% over the 2002 value. Since the property tax revenue is roughly half of the total revenue of this county (and the other revenues are either out of the control of the County or simply don’t change) this means the county is guaranteed a 6% increase in its total spending.
The 2004 total assessment is 21% over the 2003 value, which means the county can gain automatically 10% in its spending. Since this is a substantial increase, the Administration can well afford to be magnanimous and announce a few crumbs of relief. The Garden Island headlines said, “Mayor’s $103 million budget includes tax relief, emergency fund”
Myth Number Four: Tax Relief! The tax rate relief the Mayor has so generously offered is “20 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation.” Big deal! The eight tax rates average out to be roughly $4.50 per thousand, so the Mayor’s generous tax rate relief is a huge 4.4%! And that’s in the face of a 21% increase in total assessments!
The Administration is not the only entity touting relief. Council Chair Kaipo Asing has been touting his Circuit Breaker Property Tax Relief for the past two years. The first year 96 taxpayers applied for this relief; only 48 qualified. The total relief given out to the 48 lucky taxpayers amounted to $65,000 (or an average relief of $1,354) – a mere 0.14 % of the total property tax revenue of $47 million! (At the time Kaipo first proposed his Circuit Breaker Bill I told him it would primarily benefit well to do retired persons and would in fact discriminate against ordinary wage earners. As it turned out, I found that at least seven of the 48 received relief of up to $17,000 each, totaling half of the total relief given out.)
This year, by improving communication to the public, the County received 569 applications for relief, of which 408 qualified. The total relief handed out will be $258,876, for an average of $634 to each applicant; and the total amounting to 0.45% of the total property tax revenue of $57 million.
Myth Number Five: Emergency and Reserve Accounts. This is a myth because there is no accounting of how much there is or how and when they are used. The reality is that this county always dips into what it calls the Un appropriated Surplus to fund whatever comes up that is not in the budget. There is also the so-called General Fund from which the county liberally transfer money to accounts that need extra – usually un-accounted for – money. This is how the Solid Waste Program, which is theoretically an Enterprise Fund (like the Golf Course, Water, Waste Water etc) which is supposed to be self-supporting, regularly has money transferred into its account amounting to millions. One of the more impressive dippings into the Un-appropriated Surplus occurred in 1998 when the county built its Junk Car Yard in Puhi, more popularly referred to as the Black Hole, for three quarters of a million dollars (not in the budget, of course.) To add insult to injury, while the plan was to have a contractor pay the county to use the facility to process junk cars while making money by selling the junks or parts thereof, the county ended up paying a contractor to process junk cars while using the Black Hole for free.
In other words, there is an ever-present Slush Fund for the Administration to dip into. And, by the way, Waste Water is the ONLY enterprise fund that actually pays for itself. But, no wonder, when they charge people $42 a month to use the sewer system, the highest in the country – the next highest being San Diego at $34 per month. So you thought we are only number one in electricity rate! Wrong! Electricity, sewer, water, solid waste …. You name it, we are Number One!
SO, WHAT CAN THE PUBLIC DO ABOUT ALL THESE MYTHS?
Expose them when the opportunity arises at Council meetings, especially in the next two to three months when the Council is “working” on the budget. With the Council meetings now finally regularly aired on Hoike, after spending $120,000 to get them there, make use of the video camera to speak not so much to the Council members as to speak to the viewing public. In case you wonder where that $120,000 came from, you know about the Slush Fund, or the bottomless Unappropriated Surplus.
Whenever the opportunity comes up, ask the Council to have audit by independent auditor. Our own Senator Hooser has offered to get the Senate to authorize sending an auditor to Kauai– but Kauai has to ask for it. So far, almost two years after the subject of audit was first raised by Councilman Hooser, nothing has happened. Councilman Mel Rapozo is probably the only member of the Council willing to support an audit; but he will need at least three more votes. Reminding the other six members that this is election year won’t do any good if there is no competition at the balloting place in November.
Unfortunately, there is no indication so far that any of the incumbents may not run for re-election, which means that it will be essentially impossible to get Mel Rapozo any help. As a matter of fact, Mel is the most likely to be bumped off if a strong contender emerges. What chance is there, then, to influence the incumbents? By pressuring those among them who have ambitions to run for mayor in two years, as well as to take advantage of possibly two empty seats if some of them do run for mayor.
Another cultural trait of the Council members is that, while they are quite secure in holding on to their seats for the next two or more years, they do have some sensitivity about looking good before the public when important issues come up. Take Kealia Kai for example. The issue of whether McCloskey should be allowed to put his private security guards on the beach really did not pose an issue of conscience with the Council members, because their seats were secure, unless they were running for mayor, and two of them did, which gave the public two votes. But the votes were unanimous, because the heavy attendance at Council meetings made the issue very public, such that a vote for McCloskey would look very bad on Hoike. Then Councilman, but now Mayor Baptiste had been vocally adamant about accepting the coastal strip along Kealia Kai with private security guards, even vowing that he “didn’t care what arguments there were against accepting the deal, he wasn’t going to change his vote”, did in the end go with the sentiment of the public and made the vote unanimous for rejecting the gift with strings attached. (Without the support of Baptiste McCloskey promptly came back with his modified gift plan without the private security guards.)
What issue, or issues, would cause the Council members to want to look good on Hoike? Now and for the next two years? That’s what the public would need to study and analyze and seize on the right issue.
The current Council is about the most un-productive in recent years. The only visible achievement might be the extensive revisions of the Grading and Grubbing Ordinance on which it worked for ten months, only to render the output quite impotent because six of the members would not support an audit of the Public Works Dept as Gary Hooser did when he was on the Council and Mel Rapozo did this time, in vain. I believe AUDIT is the central issue around which the public can build up sufficient pressure on the Council and the Administration in the next two years to expose the irresponsibility of both sides of the County Government. The audit could start out with just the Solid Waste Program of the Public Works Department; expand then to the entire department, and ultimately to the entire county government. Only then will the Council assume its proper role, and its sworn duty, as the watch-dog of this county government and stop this annual sham of exercising oversight on the operation of the Administration.
You may be interested in knowing that ethereal Property Tax Task Force has not disappeared into oblivion after submitting its tax reform plan to the Mayor and the Council. It is continuing to meet to delve into some of the more complicated tax issues that the members were not able to tackle adequately. One of these is the question of how to tax condos and time-shares. One tends to morph into the other – condo to timeshare- and, then timeshare is morphing into something that would entail no “property” So how does the government tax these ephemeral entities, especially on Kauai – the timeshare capital of the country. The next few meetings of the Tax Force will focus on this knotty problem. The next meeting will be on Wednesday, March 24, from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. The public, as always, is invited and urged to participate.
SUBJECT: COUNTY GOVERNMENT
SOURCE: RAY CHUAN firstname.lastname@example.org
POSTED: 12 March 2004 - 8:00am
Close up on Kauai Politics
by Ray Chuan on 11 March 2004
Jimmy Pflueger will be facing Judge Nakea at the Fifth Circuit Court (in Lihue, across the street from the old Police Dept) at 9:30, Thursday, March 18, to answer 14 criminal charges by the State of Hawaii relating to the debacle at Pila`a. Pflueger may plead “no contest”, but the State’s Deputy Attorney General will object to that plea, because it would make it more difficult for parties to pursue civil against him. The State would want him to plead guilty to establish his acceptance of guilt (which he has not done so far) The decision is up to Judge Nakea. Our lawyers feel it would help to have a good showing of public concern by having many people attend the hearing. Not to testify, but just to show our presence, to show the depth of public concern over what Pflueger has done to the aina. So if you can find the time at all, please consider attending this hearing. That will be at the Fifth Circuit Court in Lihue, at9:30 a.m. on Thursday, March 18. A “no contest” plea is really a cop-out. For the future and for other similar cases now and in the future, it is important that Pflueger admit guilt. This would happen if Judge Nakea rules not to accept his “no contest” plea, on March 18.
County Contracts & Spending
Two interesting events going on at the County serve to illuminate some of the very basic problems with the way this county government does business. One is the eight-year-old leaky roof at the post-Iniki Kilauea gym. The other is an application before the Planning Commission for permit to operate a bed-and- breakfast on the main street in Hanalei.
The Leaky Gym at Kilauea was rebuilt from scratch after Iniki by about 1995. But the place often couldn’t be used because there was a pool of water on the floor near the middle of the court. The County went to the roof builder who claimed it was not his leaky roof but condensation from the air conditioning; so the County went after the AC contractor who, of course, claimed it was the leaky roof. There then followed years of legal hassles for which the County, of course, had to hire outside lawyers from Honolulu. It has never been clear to the public why the County Attorney Office, with a legal staff of up to seven lawyers, always had to buy outside legal help. Furthermore, the public is routinely barred from knowing what goes on with these simple, basic contractual/performance issues because the Council always goes into Executive Session, without ever publishing the outcome of such closed sessions as required by law.
Out of curiosity I had occasions to study the county’s procurement documents and contract documents, especially during the late nineties when we were supposed to be trying to have built under contract some kind of facility to process our solid waste as a way of extending the life of the Kekaha Landfill. My curiosity is backed by some solid experience on both sides of the procurement/contracting arena, gained during the years when I was in the warmongering business (politely called defense industry), when I was responsible for drafting proposals to secure multi-million dollar contracts from the Defense Dept and I was also occasionally asked by the Def Dept to serve on what was called the Red Team to help the government evaluate proposals. I quickly discovered that with this county the problems start at the very beginning of the process.
Our Procurement Office often does not fully understand what is being procured in the first place, followed by its inability to include provisions in both the procurement document and the subsequent contract to protect the interests of the county. Sure, we put in performance bond requirements and such; but we don’t seriously enforce these, for two reasons. One is reluctance to stand tough against a non-performing contractor (which is consistent with our general lack of enthusiasm for enforcing most of the myriad of rules and laws we write), and the other is that some of the larger contractors are locally based of long standing such that the old “ohana” culture sets in wherein you don’t press matters too hard.
An excellent example of how this operates was Theo Bypass Road that was built out of spec, in part because the county failed to require regular performance checks. The problem was turned over to the bonding agency which completed the job. But shortly after that the road contractor got another job from the county under a different company name, and got a performance bond from the same agency that had to fix the problem with the Poipu Bypass Road.
So now let’s get back to the Leaky Gym. Whenever there is a problem, we hire outside lawyers or consultants, instead of trying to deal with it with in-house talent. With the Gym, in addition to hiring Honolulu lawyers our county also hired consultants to figure out where the problem was – was it a leaky roof or was it condensation from the air conditioning system. Lo and behold, our smart consultant had the answer. Why not throw a hose over the top of the roof and turn on the water, when there is no air conditioning operating! What do you know – water came down into the gym!! How much we paid the consultant? That, of course, along with the outside lawyer bills, is buried in the Executive Sessions and will never see the light of day. By the seventh year, having identified the culprit, the county promised the problem would be fixed by September, 2003.
And so it was. But, last week, buried in the back page of the Garden Island, there was the revelation that the Gym floor was wet again! It will be interesting to see if we will go through the same circus act all over again. More Honolulu lawyer fees, more consultant fees. Probably more money given to the Purchasing Office for additional work. By the way, this last item is no joke. When the procurement process for the solid waste facility collapsed in 1999 the Council authorized another $165,000 to go another round. Except there never was another round in that project. The whole idea was abandoned. The $165,000 disappeared into the ever growing un-audited budget of the Solid Waste Program that grew from about $4million a year to its current $7 million.
Several times over the past two years the public has asked for an audit of the operation of this county. Then Council member Gary Hooser tried to get the audit. But the majority of the Council ignored the issue. This past year Gary initiated a move in the Senate to authorize the state’s legislative auditor to conduct an audit of Kauai County operations – but only if the county requested it. As expected, the Kauai County Council did not respond to the offer, thus squashing any likelihood that there would be an audit any time soon.
Our county is unique in this state, and probably unique in the nation, for having a legislative body that maintains such a buddy-buddy relationship with the administration that it never exercises its mandate to control the spending of the county. It pretends to quibble during the budgeting session every spring over some insignificant matter involving very small sums of money, but always gives the administration whatever it wants to spend. The beauty of it is that the Council has not had to change the tax rates to control spending, because the way the Administration controls the property assessment process, in the midst of a white hot real estate market, both the Mayor and the Council can announce every year at the beginning of the next fiscal year that they have “again not raised the property tax’, carefully neglecting the word “rate.” By maintaining the tax rates constant with a runaway assessment system the county can sustain easily a spending rate increase of 20% without the Council changing the “tax rate”, while in reality raising the actual tax dollars to whatever level the arbitrarily increasing property assessment can support.
Which is why last year’s real property tax revenue increased around 15% over the preceding year (from $41 million to $47 million), and next year’s revenue will rise more than 20% (from $47 million to $57 million), unless the tax system reform plan submitted by ethereal Property Tax Task Force is enacted by the county government.
It seems that I have digressed from the Leaky Gym to Tax Reform; but, ultimately, the public really has no control over the operation of the county as long as it cannot control its spending.
Now, to the Planning Commission
It seems that the owners of a renovated historical building (formerly a Buddhist temple from Lihue moved to Hanalei) has applied to the Commission for permits to operate (in an area zoned for residential) a bed-and-breakfast. When I talked to the planner in the Planning Dept who had been assigned to handle this application what exactly the application was for – or, namely, is there such a thing as a residential property operated as a commercial enterprise in the books of the Planning Department-, the answer was, sort of, “No, there isn’t such a category of use in the books of the Planning Department.” “Then, how do you intend to process this application?”, I asked. The guarded answer from the planner was that the Department would create some conditions or rules for the applicant to agree to and, voila!, there’s a permit!! I commented that this move would mark the beginning of a new kind of permitting, different from the very common “after the fact permit” to what amounts to an “ad hoc before the fact permit.” The Planner had no comment on my supposition.
The picture is actually murkier than that, because this residence has been in continuous operation as a B&B for many years, presumably under a permit granted long ago to allow its use as an “in home business.” The house was rented to a person who used it as a real estate office. But this use did not last very long. For as long as I can myself remember and recall, this place has been operated as a B&B for at least the last ten or more years. Apparently with everyone concerned, in and out of government, content with pretending that the house was permitted as a home office for real estate business. Why the owners suddenly decided to legitimize the operation with a formal application to the county government for a permit of sorts is a bit of a puzzle, especially in view of the fact that the property is currently advertised for sale as an operating B&B with an excellent occupancy record. When I raised this issue with the Planner the response was another superb example of the creative ability of our Planning Dept in dealing with uncomfortable situations. The business paper where this property is being advertised for sale would be asked to issue a sort of “retraction” that the advertisement was incorrectly published.
When I testified before the Planning Commission on Tuesday, after pointing out some of the incongruous situations, I suggested, only half facetiously, that the best and most expeditious way out of the dilemma would be for the Department to suggest quietly to the applicants to withdraw the application and let everybody forget the whole affair and go back to the hitherto state of happy oblivion. Or, the Commission and the Department should bite the bullet and get serious about developing and promulgating rules through appropriate processes to permit and regulate a host of uses that are in legal and administrative limbo – such as B&B, vacation rental, single family homes converted to apartments, second dwellings (ohana houses) built as second motels, etc, etc.
Alice was lucky not to have ventured into our Never Never Land. She, at least, would have had to invent more descriptive terms than “Curiouser and Curiouser.”
I have no idea how this case will develop. Let’s wait and see what happens.
SUBJECT: COUNTY GOVERNMENT
SOURCE: RAY CHUAN email@example.com
POSTED: 9 February 2004 - 8:00am
Has the County Council done anything this session?
by Ray Chuan on 7 February 2004
Out of the two-year term of a council member’s tenure there’s effectively only a little over a year during which the council can accomplish something of substance. At the beginning of the term at least one month is lost just getting organized. Then comes the budget cycle after March through June. The same budget cycle is repeated the second year, by the end of which Primary Election is not far off. This year there is the extra burden of adopting the necessary ordinances and administrative rules to implement the real property tax reform plan that is to be delivered to the Mayor and the Council in the coming two weeks. If the Council did not accomplish anything of substance the first year it is not likely that, aside from property tax reform which should be a vote getter, much else will be accomplished.
There are, however, window-dressing offerings at the Council that could substitute for action – for a while or even longer. All the candidates for both mayor and the council races talked about doing something about our solid waste problem. Has anything been done? Has there been a site selected for a new landfill after about four years talking about it and spending $150,000 hiring a consultant to look for one (unsuccessfully)? But we heard a presentation at the Council on what is being done in Maui, with absolutely no follow-on action.
All the candidates also cited affordable housing as another priority item, though at the time no one mentioned the extreme in housing problem: homelessness. Ironically, the only action having to do with housing was the ejection of homeless campers from County parks ordered by the Mayor who at the same time lamented the fact that Kauai is the only county in the state without a shelter for the homeless. The irony is carried further at the Council by the spirited deliberations on the building of 31 new camping sites antedate Park, in the wake of the ejection of the homeless. On the day of the meeting, as my wife and I were driving down to Lihue, I went over the day’s Council agenda with her. When I came to the 31 new camping sites she asked: “You mean for the homeless?” “No,” I said: “They’re for people who have homes but like to camp out in the open sometimes.” When I alluded to this irony at the Council I was brusquely cut off during my testimony by Councilman Tokioka who informed me that I was not addressing the topic on the agenda. Well, the homeless probably don’t vote, since they have no address.
Led by Councilwoman Yukimura, and joined in by numerous civic leaders, funding was provided to bring to the island an authority from the Mainland on cooperative housing which enables families with limited incomes to accumulate equity while owning a share in a coop and paying a share of the mortgage. Obviously very successful on the Mainland and, surprisingly, already provided with the enabling legislation in this state, but no coop housing has been built on Kauai or anywhere else in this state. All agreed at the various meetings with this expert around the island and at the Council meeting this past Thursday that this appears to be a good thing for us to do in this state. It is interesting to note that in this morning’s Honolulu newspaper there appeared a major story on how Kamehameha Schools, one of the largest non-profit institutions in this country, has invested, through its for-profit affiliate, a massive luxury housing project on 1500 acres of land on the Big Island. Does one laugh or cry?
Another recurring topic of popularity is a sports complex in the Lihue area. At Thursday’s council meeting the Deputy County Engineer talked at length about the PLANS for such a complex. It transpired in the ensuing discussion that this topic was first raised in 1969, revived, reviewed and re-studied in 1989. Apparently half a million dollars have been spent during the interval, creating rather complete plans – down to such details as where the lights were to be etc, but no action what-ever. Council Member Mel Rapozo was, again, the lone member who asked the hard questions about why something as important for the kids as a gym or a track or a football field hasn’t been acted on when the County obviously has the personnel with the passion and energy to find the money and the support of both certain segments of the public and the council to build a $20 million 10-mile bikeway (adorned with $30,000 imported hardwood sign posts) on the Eastside plus a soccer field plus, the latest, 31 camping sites at Lydgate Park. What is implied pretty clearly by Mel is why the mayor – the current one and the past ones since 1969 – never directed the head of the Building Division of the Public Works Dept to use his obvious and demonstrated talents and passion ( a word very popular these days at council meetings when members declare to the TV camera how they are full of passion to do this and that) to work on what all agree are critical needs on this island such as a new landfill, a gym, a swimming pool and pothole filling materials that don’t come loose as soon as it rains.
What to do? What to do? How do you make these people on the Council do something? The only thing I have learned in fourteen years of observation of how this county ticks is that making them look bad before the public is, generally, the only way to make them do things right. Many a time over the years I have prefaced my testimony before the Council with: “I’m not talking to you. I’m talking to that camera!” while pointing at the Hoike TV camera staring at me from the ceiling. Well, Mayor Kusaka and, following her, the Council successfully kept the public from any meaningful coverage of Council meetings on Hoike with this lame excuse of captioning for the hearing impaired, for almost two years, until this past week when, after months of complaints from some members of the public and threats of lawsuit, Council, Planning Commission and Police Commission meetings are now back on Hoike on a regular and predictable basis. It is, therefore, time for all who watch Hoike and want to participate in the affairs of state, to show up at these meetings, and especially Council meetings, to find out first hand what our officials are not doing to deal with pressing problems on this island, and to expose them on camera.
Recall the events in the spring of 2001, when the public took great interest in keeping private security guards off Donkey Beach and succeeded in getting the Council to reject the offer of 69 acres of land along the Kealia coast to the County by Tom McCloskey unless he kept the private guards off the beach. Even then Councilman Bryan Baptiste, who had vowed earlier during the debate that no matter what happened nothing was going to change his mind from voting to accept the conditional gift from McCloskey, caved in and joined the rest of the Council to make it a unanimous vote to reject the “gift.” Shortly after that vote McCloskey’s lawyers removed the private guards and the Council accepted the gift. All this happened before Kusaka shut off the TV coverage and hundreds of people showed up to testify at Council meetings.
Council, Planning Commission and Police Commission meetings can now be seen on a regular schedule which is published on Hoike’s website: www.hoike.org. A fresh weekly calendar is published on Monday. The first showing of Council and Pl Comm is on the day following the meeting, at 6pm.
SUBJECT: OPEN GOVERNMENT
SOURCE: RAY CHUAN firstname.lastname@example.org
POSTED: 17 January 2004 - 6:00pmThe Lauhala Curtain has been lifted!!
Rotunda of the County Building in Lihue
HOIKE AIRS COUNTY MEETINGS AGAIN ON CHANNEL 53
by Ray Chuan on 16 January 2004
County Council meetings can again been seen on Hoike, with close captioning if desired, just one day after the meeting. This week’s Thursday Council meeting was aired on Hoike Channel 53 at 6pm on Friday! It will be aired again on Saturday and Sunday atnoonand6 pm.
One nice feature with this latest peek into the workings of our government is that the actual real time clock of the meeting is shown in the upper right corner of the screen, so you can time how long some of our legislators drone on while others wait patiently. You can also time how much longer than the 3-miinute rule some speakers are allowed to testify.
But, credit should be given to all those in the Council and the Administration who labored for years to open the government to the people, especially considering this is election year.
You may recall that the Curtain was lowered by Mayor Kusaka when pressure and criticism from the Council and the public who testify reached the intolerable level. The reason she offered for shutting the public from watching their government at work was actually rather amusing. In an interview with Bill Tolly of radio station KUAI she said things going on at the Council meetings were not appropriate for children to watch and hear. An audio taped version of this interview was actually played at a Council meeting by Andy Parx. Once the scandal was out Kusaka’s minions in the administration went to work to justify her action. They told the public that the Americans With Disability Act required the shutting down of the TV coverage.
The fact was that for years Hoike had shown the un-close-captioned coverage of both Council and Planning Commission meetings within one or two days of the meetings while the captioning was being done. The captioned versions were then shown. After delaying the airing of Council by weeks at a time Hoike continued the practice of airing Planning Commission and Police Commission meetings first without captioning, followed by the captioned versions. It is a classic performance of this county government that it makes things worse when it tries to cover up blunders.
The less-than-adroit machinations included Hoike, the public funded public access cable TV system, whose management did it s best to insure that what little coverage of Council meetings was scattered all over the calendar, making it a game to try to catch a glimpse now and then – alerting friends by phone right away. A few attempts were made by private individuals to video the meeting and show it on Channel 12. Here again, there was no cooperation from Hoike management which apparently considers the Catch-the-Council-Meeting a regular feature of its Channels 13 and 12. The private effort ceased while more features were added to the great game, the latest being to remove the date of the meeting from the screen so that when a viewer finally made a lucky hit she/he wouldn’t have the vaguest idea when that meeting took place.
For now, the Administration-initiated interference with Open Government has been removed. The next target is the Council which has increased significantly the abuse of its discretionary use of Executive Sessions to hide its activities from the public, often in cooperation with the Administration. The law – Hawaii Revised Statutes Chapter 92, popularly known as the Sunshine Law – provides no definitive measures for dealing with violations. The public’s only recourse, short of going to court, is to file a complaint with the Office of Information Practices (OIP), which is itself a rather convoluted way of naming a supposed watch-dog function.
The OIP is not a favorite child of either the State Legislature or the Governor. Its staff has been decimated in recent years. Its very existence has been threatened with outright abolishment or absorption into some other part of the bureaucracy. The few remaining staff members gallantly struggle on, responding to complaints with opinions that almost consistently fall on deaf years. On our island the untiring efforts to keep some sunshine on government have been the province of Andy Parks, a private citizen-advocate, and Tony Sommer, the Honolulu Star Bulletin’s man on Kauai who enjoys the support of his editor in his unusual practice of switching from the role of the reporter to the advocate where the Sun Shine Law is concerned.
One of the more blatant examples of the trashing of HRS 92 in recent months was connected with the “resignation” of Police Chief Bob Freitas. A week or so before the formal announcement of the “resignation” Mayor Baptiste literally barged into the Council meeting to demand, pronto, an Executive Session (that was no on the printed agenda), a demand that was promptly granted. It had been known for weeks before this extraordinary Executive Session that the Mayor, for whatever reason, wanted Chief Freitas out, period.The problem was, simply, lack of cause for dismissal.
Mayor Kusaka had wanted him out because he wouldn’t agree to using privately donated all terrain vehicles to patrol just the “private beach” of the donor, which led to the protracted suspension of the Chief, who filed a lawsuit against the County for unfair treatment, the expenditure of a hundred thousand dollars to hire an investigator from Honolulu who, after three months of intensive work, found that the Chief had committed these horrendous sins: He drove his then girlfriend in a police car when she was out house hunting. He yelled at a subordinate on the phone. He parked on the wrong side of a street. The episode ended with the chief being re-instated, but without settling his suit against the County.
That would seem to have ended this gripping drama until Babtiste, Kusaka’s successor, and fellow Republican, took over the helms and promptly continued the ousting of the Chief. Lacking credible cause for dismissal the Mayor obviously had to resort to some kind of deal that would entice Freitas to “resign”, not exactly an unheard of arrangement. Thus a Golden Parachute package was set in motion that apparently needed to be finalized in a hurry, thus prompting Mayor Baptiste’s hurried demand for an instantaneous Executive Session. A few days after, Chief Freitas’ “resignation” was formally announced, along with a Golden Parachute of $200,000.
Our county now faces the prospect of two departments without senior leadership. The Public Works Department has, of course, been without a chief – tercentenaries– since May, 2003, and without a Deputy County Engineer since 1998. (Ian Costa, the one time Deputy Planning Director, was exiled to the seat of the Deputy County Engineer in 1998 to make room for Kusaka’s friend Sheilah Miyake in the Planning Dept, where she still sits. Ian was, happily, returned to Planning, as Director, by Baptiste who appointed a Deputy County Engineer who, like Costa, had no real function in the department which had always operated without any leadership anyway, and resigned after less than a year, and was replaced, curiously, by one of the Deputy County Attorneys.
The Police Dept has an Acting Chief who had wanted to retire from the force in April but was persuaded to stay on till the end of the year. In the mean time, the Police Department is without a permanent chief and has 25 unfilled positions. Interestingly enough, these unfilled positions still have budget dollars allocated, which apparently has provided the Mayor with a ready slush fund to dip into to fund otherwise unbudgeted positions in his administration, such as his representatives at the celebrated Ka Leo Kauai monthly meetings around the island who teach the hapless on how to solve their perennial problems by the magic of “process!”
In the mean time ….. the Council has:Spent thirteen months to fashion a bill to provide money in the Planning Dept to implement the mandate of the Charter Amendment that created the open spacde/public access fund – without a glimmer of specifics as to what this person is to do, while Council and Mayor continue to dawdle over the formation of some Commission to guide (?) or develop (?) policies and objectives (?) , while offering no help whatever to citizens who have found themselves in trouble of various sorts as a result of their trying to deal with the issue of public access to the beach at Papa`a Bay, other than to deny County culpability and directing its police force to arrest some citizens on highly questionable grounds.
Received countless meaningless reports from the Administration on the status of therefore other issues in our solid waste management, without comment or inclination to initiate legislative action to ward off the specter of an island without a landfill.
Endorsed a string of extra-curricular projects in the Building Division of the Headless Public Works Department that will burden the County with perpetual maintenance costs, while builders island-wide wait for months for the processing of building permits and the Parks and Roads Divisions struggle with bumpy playing fields and unkempt restrooms in parks around the island, and filling potholes with fast disappearing asphalt mixes.
Refused to order an audit of the operation of this county government, even after spending a year to rationalize the Grading/Grubbing Ordinance knowing full well that the enforcement is hopeless without fundamental reform in the Public Works Dept, and that reform cannot begin without an audit -- all realities known intimately to some of the Council members who have had to deal with PW Dept in the past.This message started out on a happy note with the lifting of the Lauhala Curtain, only to degenerate into the usual litany of what is not right with this government. Perhaps we can find cheers by reflecting on some of the brighter moments in past years when Gary Hooser was on the Council.