INDEX - KAUAI POLITICSwww.islandbreath.org ID# 0507-04
SUBJECT: KAUAI COUNTY GOVERNMENT
SOURCE: RAY CHUAN email@example.com
POSTED: 23 April 2005 - 10:30am
Council slammed by OIP and other problems
Cigar label found on the floor of a smokey political backroom. See http://www.instoneinc.com/
by Ray Chuan on 20 April 2005
A few years ago Council Chair Ron Kouchi summoned the County Attorney to admonish him that the Attorney's responsibility was to serve the Public. It looks like the current County Attorney, as well as her staff attorneys, never heard that admonition. All indications are that the County Attorney's Office has joined the Council in whatever witch hunt they have in mind. As a matter of fact, Carol Furtado, whose appointment for a second term on the Police Commission is being held up by the Council, has already gone public in the Garden Island, wondering what kind of Witch Hunt the Council is on.
This latest flap between the Council/County Attorney and the Office of Information Practices (OIP) is ratcheting the scandal up another notch or two. It seems that County Attorney Lani Nakazawa outright lied to the OIP in her justification for advising the Council it could go into Executive Session (ES) ' that the Council was going to discuss hush hush matters involving the FBI and the State Attorney General and under cover agents etc. When the OIP obtained the minutes of the closed session in question ' Executive Session 177, (Jan 20, 2005), it found no such activities at the allegedly properly convened closed session. One wonders how the County Attorney would explain this latest black-eye dealt her office.
The real pertinent question is still: Why all this Witch Hunt?On the surface it seems to be an attempt on the part of the Council and the Old Guard in the Police Department to get rid of the new Chief whose well advertised efforts at cracking down on the Ice plague is obviously not welcome by some people on this island. The problem apparently started from the very moment Chief Lum's appointment was discussed. There was then the Hop Sing racial slur directed almost publicly (through e-mail) at Lum. I was informed that at his swearing ceremony only the younger officers showed up, none of the Old Guard. The deep-seated culture of the plantation mentality is very much alive, under which no one from an outside culture, be the person a haole or black or brown ' as long as he or she is not born and raised on this island ' is allowed to have a meaningful role in the governance of this island.
Unfortunately, this Kauai Island Culture directly affects everyone's pocket book, be he a home owner or a renter. It wouldn't be quite so bad is what money we give to these Bandits buys some service; but that is not to be; and the return on our investment (if one could call it that) is sliding downhill faster, as more of the County workers and, especially, their supervisors, approach retirement. Do you realize that some of our highest-paid county workers ' earning $90k ' are retiring, and their successors so far don't show much promise, for they, too, are in for permanent employment without accountability or responsibility their only meaningful responsibility being to cast their votes for the same people every time, to assure the well tuned patronage system works smoothly, and everybody protects everybody else and nobody rocks the boat.
The per capita property tax revenue on this island continues to be the highest in this state.
And it increases every year ' for the simple reason that as our county workers age they do even less work and more work has to be contracted out.
Here are some examples...
County workers are not trained on how to operate the grinding machines ' like not allowing engine blocks to go in along with the tree cuttings.
The broken machines sit idle at the county's shop; nobody wants to repair broken machines; better to buy new ones. That provides the excuse the supervisors are looking for. Contract the work out! It's cheaper! So a no-bid contract is given to Kauai Nursery and Landscaping, at $300,000 a year as of last year, probably more in the new budget. Guess who used to work for KNL' Our current mayor. Did the appropriation for that money go through the regular approval procedure?
Of course not, after all, these Bandits have a Slush Fund that had reached over $7 million this past fiscal year; and will probably go higher the next year as the Bandits pump more into it. How does that work' Budget money that won't be spent and let it disappear into the un-tagged Un-appropriated Surplus. That can be done with phantom positions that are never filled. Or unspecified equipment (such as the $700,000 in last year's budget for 'heavy equipment') money that doesn't get spent.
he County Attorney Office has a budget of around 3⁄4 million that includes $300,000 for outside counsel. When you add up all the outside lawyers they hire at the drop of a hat, the total for the year far exceeds the $300k. So what are our own lawyers supposed to do? Do the bidding of the Mayor and the Council to justify that they want to do, as Lani Nakazawa did with ES-177 mentioned above. Or file a groundless complaint, which was turned down by both the Police and the Prosecutor, against a newspaper reporter who had the audacity to file suit against the Council for not obeying the Sunshine Law, and succeed in getting the guy fired by his paper.
(The same Deputy County Attorney who did the hatchet job on the Star Bulletin reporter reportedly continues her private practice while serving as a Deputy County Attorney.) Or sue itself, with outside counsel, of course, to thwart the people's will in the Charter amendment to freeze property tax.
Spent $150,000 eleven years ago (during the reign of JoAnn Yukimura) with some consultant to produce an Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan that has never been implemented. At that time the county had a real Solid Waste Manager with professional experience; his replacement, since Kusaka came to power, had been a one time electrical engineer with absolutely no experience in either civil engineering, much less solid waste management; his only qualification appearing to be his being married to the right local family. When challenged on this appointment Kusaka offered to send him to school, at public expense, of course.
Fortunately, the operation of the Kekaha Landfill, the most critical element in any solid waste program, had been contracted out to Waste Management Inc, the nation's largest solid waste company, so the electrical engineer could muddle along for almost 17 years sending trash to Kekaha while doing nothing about the day when the landfill would be filled.
In the mean time, with the compliant attitude of the State Deptartment of Health Solid Waste Division with respect to oversight, nothing in the $150,000 plan has been implemented. Of course, the standard move at this point would be, of course, to buy another Plan. Sure enough, now Council member JoAnn Yukimura proposed to spend double that amount (after all, one has to accommodate inflation) to buy a new plan that will no doubt sit idle for another decade, by which time our electrical engineer cum Solid Waste Manager will have advanced to the $90k Club following his predecessors, and ready to retire. In the mean time, regrettably, the trash is building higher and higher at Kekaha.
Ah, not to worry, because here comes Mr. Steve Chang, head of the State Solid and Hazardous Waste Division, offering a Permit to add another 25 feet to the already 60-foot high pile of trash so prominent a landscape feature that it is used as a navigation reference point. The offer from the generous Mr. Chang is not exactly a Permit but an offer to accept an application for the Permit. Since there is no one literate enough in our Number One County Division (Public Works), budget-wise, at $32 million this past year, to write a permit application, another $191,000 contract is handed out (without proper appropriation) to our friendly Consultant to write something that he merely has to click a few keys on his computer to produce out of his file, for at least $3000 per page in the finished product.
How the Council managed to approve and support the County's Permit pplication, despite objections by Councilmen Rapozo and Frufaro, is another story that I will save for a future discourse.
And so it goes, on and on, year after year, going back to Yukimura's time, to Kusaka's time and to Baptiste's time and, "cooperating" with the same supervisors that have been sitting there for decades. As some of the Untouchables retire with a fat pension there are always equally accommodating and incompetent successors to move into the empty offices.
End of my "endless" digressions!
Back to the subject of the duty and responsibility of the Office of the County Attorney. The policy of both the Council and the County Attorney with respect to the long list of negative opinions emanating from the OIP appears to be Silence. The advice from the OIP to the Nitpickers seems to be that 'without showing a deliberate intent to violate the Sunshine Law, the public is not likely to prevail in any legal action against the County Council. The strategy of the Nitpickers will probably be to device some way of coaxing the Council into some act of 'deliberate intent to violate the Sunshine Law. The palpable lies offered by the County Attorney to the OIP to justify her approval of the Council's going into Executive Session 177 may constitute deliberate intent, but that's for the Police Commission to deal with. We Nitpickers will have to create our own brand of deliberate intent to build a case upon which to sue the Council.
Any suggestions from readers of this communication are welcome. There is no need to worry about keeping such suggestions from the Council and the County Attorney. First of all, these occasional messages from me (one of which has recently been characterized by someone in the Planning Department as "slanderous") are assumed to enjoy a certain degree of circulation within the County Government circles, as attested to by the occasional anonymous letters I receive from my unknown whistle-blowers. Then, these people are just arrogant enough in the enjoyment of their perceived power and immunity that they are not likely to pay any attention to what they do or say.
Now, for a very brief report on the compilation of property assessment data from round the island. I still am not receiving much input from locals and the kanaka, not surprisingly. But I keep trying.
Here are a couple of outstanding examples of how berserk the Tax Assessors have become this year. In Kekaha: A property of a fifth of an acre, not near the beach, with a modest home on it that pays no property tax after an appropriate exemption has been applied, had the land assessed at $62,530 in 2001. By 2004 the land assessment had gone up 46% to $63,800, which is probably ho-hum by Kauai standards. But the 2005 land assessment went ballistic by 249% to $222,800!! To add mystery to surprise, the 2002 land assessment went down (from 2001) by 36% to $39,750.
Compared to this low point the 2005 assessment is up by 460%!! This property has been owned and lived in for years by a local family.
In Hanalei: A property that has been in a Hawaiian family for many generations, not on the shores of Hanalei Bay, was assessed for land (again, the building is so modest that it pays no property tax) in 2001 at $139,000. By 2005 that has gone up 722% to $1,142,100!! Actually, the property took half of that beating in 2002 already, assessed at $660,000, for 1-year rise of 375%!
For comparison, a property, also in Hanalei but not on the beach, owned by a haole family, also with a modest building, saw only a rise of 144% from 2001 to 2005 in its assessment. Similarly, a beach front property with an expensive house owned by a haole family, saw a total rise of 235% (for land and building) from 2001 to 2005.
I leave you to ponder the equity and justice in the extraction of property tax by our Bandits.
SUBJECT: KAUAI COUNTY GOVERNMENT
Kangaroo Kourt Recess
SOURCE: RAY CHUAN
firstname.lastname@example.org 15 March 2005 - 7:30am
by Ray Chuan 13 March 2005
In case you haven't, be sure to look in today's Advertiser (Sunday, March 13) for a series of articles dealing with Open Government. The series downloaded to more than 20 pages. I wrote a letter to the editor which appears below:
To the Editor of the Honolulu Advertiser:
Your major effort on Open Government in today's (Advertiser, Sunday, March 13, 2005) has opened a hole in the murky sky over Hawaii and gives a breath of fresh air to those who have fought for years to open up our government at all levels. On the island of Kauai a group known informally as the Nitpickers has been demanding that our County Council comply with the Sunshine Law. Going into Executive Sessions has become routine practice rather than exceptions.
During the last term of the previous Council, from 2001 through 2002, there were 41 Executive Sessions. Since the current Council took over there have been more than 140 Executive Sessions, most of which dealt with hiding from the public the enormous amount of money this county spends on hiring outside lawyers.
In the past four months the Office of Information Practices has issued opinion after opinion to the Kauai County Attorney and the Chairman of the County Council that the Council's practice of appropriating money for hiring outside counsel in executive sessions was in violation of the Sunshine Law.
While grudgingly acceding to the complaint of the Nitpickers the Council mounted a major offensive against its critics by adopting, by resolution but not by ordinance, an Investigation Committee, made up exclusively of Council members, that has the right to compel testimony under oath and the production of documents by subpoena, as well as the power to punish non-compliance with the subpoena with jail and fine.
In a letter to the Kauai County Council on March 3, 2005, the Office of Information Practices, in response to a request for an opinion on this Investigation Committee by one of the Nitpickers, informed the
Council chairman: "Specifically, it is the opinion of OIP that part 10 of the Resolution, regarding "Testimony" is inconsistent with and in violation of the provisions of the Sunshine Law. .....OIP has consistently ruled that placing conditions or restrictions on a person's ability to present testimony at a hearing is prohibited by the Sunshine Law. ... Consistent with past decisions of OIP and
with the legislative policies consistently recognized in support of government openness and transparency, it is OIP's opinion that conditioning the opportunity to testify at a hearing upon the administration of an oath is inconsistent with and in violation of the
Sunshine Law. ..."
The Nitpickers and their friends on Kauai are now awaiting, with bated breath, the next move of the Kauai County Council.
Raymond L. Chuan
When I didn't show up for the Council meeting on Thursday this last week some of my friends were a bit worried, some thinking maybe I had been dealt something similar to the 'Carmen Wong' treatment. No such thing. I had to start work on preparing my tax return.
There was, however, an interesting item on the agenda for that Council meeting: A communication from Councilman Mel Rapozo to Re-Write the Kauai County Charter. While I am all in favor of taking a close look at our Charter that was created in 1969, I certainly wouldn't want a complete re-write by THIS Council after the sloppy way it created the Star Chamber Investigation Committee. Despite its sanitizing by new Council member (and former Deputy Prosecutor) Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho it is still a bad piece of whatever-they-want-to-call-it; and it certainly did not pass the muster of the OIP.
In the mean time, the Police Commission is still operating with two empty seats, as part of the consequence of the dismembering of the Commission by the Council which is still holding up the Mayor's nomination of Carol Furtado for a second term (an entirely routine practice) after refusing to approve the Mayor's recommendation for a 90-day extension of the term of Commissioner Stanton Pa (which is a fairly normal practice when the Mayor has not been able to nominate a new member for that position on the Commission.) At the same time, the clock is ticking away towards the end of the 180-day statute of limitation on the filing of a Civil Rights action against the County by the Police Chief over the 'Hop Sing' e-mail by Police Commissioner Gonsalves. And the Kauai County Government Show goes on and on''.
The advertised 'Your Government' feature promoted by the editor of the Garden Island, which I naively thought was a sign of progress, turned out to be a miserable flop. It consists of nothing but a rehash of hand-outs by the Kauai County Government, rather than a forum on 'Your Government.' So I might as well close this week-end's communication with the Letter to the Editor of mine that the Garden Island did not publish:
To the Garden Island:
I wish to join the many readers of the Garden Island who are very encouraged by the paper's announcement (Sunday, February 27) that it would be publishing weekly a special feature called "YourGovernment", and who wish to thank the Editor for this very forward looking move to give the long-suffering taxpayers of this island an opportunity to find out just how this government works and how it manages to spend over a hundred million dollars a year and all we get are plans, consultant reports, visions, conferences, $90,000 a year office holders looking for nothing but retirement, pot holes all over county roads, zilch planning and increasing congestion all over the island, ad nauseam.
What I hope will happen with the cracking of the very opaque or optically distorted window on our government is the emergence of significant Reality Checks. As a matter of fact, the lead article on the Sunday paper about the search for a County Engineer to fill a position that has been vacant for three years to lead a department that has increased its annual budget to an astounding $32 million, is an excellent way to start the reality checks. The problem has very little to do with the Charter requirement that the head of the Public Works Department be a registered civil engineer, or even the $75,000 salary offered for this job. The plain fact is that no one in his/her right mind would want to come into a department that has had essentially no supervision or accountability for many years (spanning the terms of at least three mayors) and where he or she would have to deal with $90,000 a year (the highest in the County) "Untouchables" over whom neither he/she or anybody has any control.
I don't have to name these Untouchables because the current mayor, the past two mayors - Kusaka and Yunimura - and the senior members of the Council know exactly who they are and have on occasions honored their Untouchability. The fact that some or all of these $90,000 Untouchables are retired or nearing retirement does not offer any optimism that things would improve, because the culture they and the Council and the mayors have cultivated over the years is so deeply entrenched that the mere hiring of a County Engineer is not going to make much of a dent.
Having by now probably gotten myself put on the A List (joining former Star Bulletin reporter Tony Sommer) of the Great Kauai Council Inquisition, but hoping not be thrown in the clinker for Contempt of the Inquisitors, I would offer to give the readers in the future specific and documented examples of how the most expensive department of the county does not function under the tradition of the Untouchables.
In closing I must not forget to thank the Garden Island and its editor again for clearing a bit the fog that hangs over Rice Street and offering hope to the
long suffering taxpayers that Transparency and Open Government may yet become reality.
Raymond L. Chuan
What a waste that was!
But I will fulfill the promise of citing specifics to illustrate the utter uselessness of our Public Works Dept. Till then, thank you, as always, for your indulgence.