Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Musings: Wondering Why

The day started as a pink slit in a mass of gray that kept expanding until all the mountains were tinted rosy, then a silver-white sphere, still hidden by clouds, shot wide rays up into the heavens and set the sea to sparkling as flocks of boobies headed south.

Koko startled a pueo that was perched in the ironwoods lining the stretch of tawny sand and it flew away silently and slowly, circling back over my head. Our tracks were the only ones on a beach washed clean by the extreme tides of yesterday’s new moon, save for those left by sea turtles that had come ashore to nest. I’d noticed turtles bobbing very close to shore at sunset the past couple of nights, and now I know why.

Less clear is the reasoning behind the county’s ongoing unwillingness to be fully transparent and allow citizens and their representatives to participate in a meaningful way. It seems that department heads and elected officials don’t realize that when they withhold information, stymie access and in other ways blow off and obstruct the public, it fuels all those persistent, unkind rumors that they’re on the take, in the pockets of developers, incompetent, corrupt, uncaring and otherwise not acting in the public's best interest.

Take, for example, the ongoing controversy over putting matters on the Council agenda, a story that The Garden Island revisited today from the point of view of Councilman Jay Furfaro, who is “seeking some clarity" from the Office of Information Practices. Jay made some interesting revelations in the article:

Furfaro has encountered frustrations similar to [Councilman Tim] Bynum’s when trying to have the chair put an item related to government transparency on the agenda. Furfaro’s particular frustration has been further complicated by the council being advised by a succession of five different county attorneys over the last seven months.

In a Jan. 31, 2008 letter to Asing and a follow-up communication months later, Furfaro requested agenda time to discuss a policy concerning the release of opinions provided to the council from the Office of the County Attorney.

The item did not appear on the agenda until after Furfaro became interim council chair when Asing left to become interim mayor following Bryan Baptiste’s unexpected June death. There was some discussion on the policy last year, but the council never reached a consensus, and it has not returned to the agenda since Asing resumed his chairmanship.

Tim and Jay are painting themselves as the good guys in this power struggle, but a few questions still niggle. Given Kaipo’s history, why did the Council vote to again make Kaipo chair? Why doesn’t the Council act now to remove him from that position? And why didn’t the Council move to change some of its rules when Kaipo was briefly dethroned and warming the seat at the mayor’s office? Surely they would have found an ally in former Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura.

Regardless of what the OIP or county attorneys say, the long and the short of it is that Kaipo can’t possibly justify, given adequate notice, keeping any bill or matter that any Council person wants to discuss off the agenda. And if the Council holds his feet to the fire, publicly and persistently, it can wear him down. So let’s stop hiding behind the attorneys and deal with the real logjam here: Kaipo.

Meanwhile, there’s another big logjam over at the Planning Department, which has been far from forthcoming in the matter of approving Transient Vacation Rental (TVR) applications.

A June 22 letter to Director ian Costa and Deputy Director Imai Aiu outlines the runaround that Protect Our Neighborhood `Ohana (PONO) has encountered in trying to review and comment on the many permits to legitimize the illegal vacation rentals in Wainiha and Haena. Some of the concerns noted include:

Under Chapter 9 of the Planning Commission Rules of Practice and Procedure, PONO submitted an appeal of the Planning Directors approval(s) of NUC’s [nonconforming use certificates] on April 20, 2009. Over two months have passed, and we have not received any acknowledgment or response. We wonder if our request had been submitted by an attorney rather than the public, would they have received the same treatment, i.e., no acknowledgment?

An official “Request to Access a Government Record” was faxed to the Planning Department on April 14, 2009 to review TVR application files. Now, two months later, only 27 of the requested application files have been made available to PONO. We request all of the remaining requested TVR files for Wainiha and Haena be made available for review by June 30. Non-conforming use certificates, if approved, were to be issued by March 30, 2009, so the 90 days between March 30 and June 30 should be more than adequate time to make available the application files requested by PONO.

Because the majority of requested application/files have not been made available to PONO (list was included), we are still unable to review the documents submitted which were used to grant “Approvals” and nonconforming use certificates. As the approvals of TVR NUC’s legitimize commercial uses in our neighborhoods, it is imperative our community representatives are granted timely access to the records to review the consistency of the approvals with the TVR ordinance. The inspection of documents relating to the grandfathering of TVR’s in formerly residential neighborhoods needs to be granted with transparency and openness in government.

The letter, signed by Barbara Robeson and Caren Diamond, also notes that all but one of the files reviewed lacked critical documentation, including details about whether the premises were inspected, the date and time of approvals or denials, copies of letters to owners stating approval or denial, general checklist on whether applicants had provided all the required information, and more.

Without the above missing information in the files provided, it is impossible to ascertain when or if an applicant received approval, nor the basis for granting such approval. There simply is nothing in the record to indicate the basis for approval or denial of the applications.

Finally, we note that on the County’s website that 24 applications in the Wainiha – Ha'ena area which were listed as “Incomplete” were changed to “Approved” sometime between Friday, June 12, 2009 and Friday, June 19, 2009. This is very alarming since the final date for obtaining a nonconforming use certificate was March 30, 2009. Was the posting a computer error? Were the applications previously approved, but lacking public notice, with the status on the website never changed? Approvals granted after March 30, 2009 are in violation of the CZO and should be immediately corrected.

It’s this sort of thing that makes folks feel like public participation is all a charade and sets them to wondering just why it is that they're being shut out of the process.


Anonymous said...

"Given Kaipo’s history, why did the Council vote to again make Kaipo chair? "

-- the tv guy, big save guy, and the rancher / oil guy voted him in...b/ they all wanted to "play ball" together? promises? dunno

"Planning Department"

-- as seems to be the case w/ most other co depts: its filled with people having political obedience and loyalty as their primary -- and often only -- "qualification"

the pool of "homegrown" and qualified persons to staff the top posts in a given department is quite small. but to bring in qualified "outsiders" would be viewed as a betrayal on several levels by several groups of persons (and i suspect yukimura could speak to that)

in the view of a boss tweed, there are lots of good forces keeping things they way they are

otherwise, good scrutiny of that trv thing


Anonymous said...

"And why didn’t the Council move to change some of its rules when Kaipo was briefly dethroned and warming the seat at the mayor’s office? Surely they would have found an ally in former Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura.

Surely??? Can you quote any statement from Joann that indicates support for transparency in Government. If you can find one it will be qualified at best, and her actions regarding this issue of transparency both while Mayor and as a council member has been less than stellar.

Don't forget that Kaipo years ago was into exposing of government corruption. Joann is relying on supporter "assumptions" that the past Joann is still the current Joann. People change and her documented record in the past few years indicate she is no friend of transparency, sunshine, nor open records. I would love to be proven incorrect in this conclusion.

Anonymous said...

"wondering just why it is that they're being shut out of the process."

3 answers come to mind:

1 - Our representatives think they are smart and the public is stupid
2- They are hiding something
3 - They value efficiency over democracy

Anonymous said...

certainly its OK for the county to ban future or new TVR's, but its not fair or legal to suddenly ban all existing TVR's, after the county for at least 15 years has taken the position that they were legal and collected taxes on the same. The better approach would be for the county to simply enforce existing zoning laws, and shut down any TVR on ag land that does not have a farm, or other legitimate ag use. The buildings have to be ancillary or connected to the ag use.