Now that we’ve moved fully into fall, it’s dark most mornings when Koko and I go out walking. Not that either of us mind. I like the stars, and it provides her with cover to surreptitiously snack on things that she otherwise wouldn’t be allowed. Because I can’t tell, when her little face is buried in the grass, is she sniffing, or is she eating?
Just like when I got back to the house and looked at the debut of Koohan Paik’s latest venture, New Pacific Voice, and saw my Honolulu Weekly article on depleted uranium prominently displayed as the lead story, replete with the same graphic and video link, I couldn’t tell, is she is stealing outright, or is she just shockingly ignorant of copyright laws?
The Weekly editor sent her an immediate take-down order. I wonder how many other publications and/or writers will be annoyed to see their work reprinted in full without their permission, and in the case of my story, with no attribution even to the source.
Moving on to other ethical matters, the Garden Island today brings news that two members of the Charter Commission have formally resigned: attorney Jonathan Chun, because he’s worried about conflict of interest; and Carol Ann Davis-Briant, who claims her efforts on behalf of a county manager proposal have been intentionally stymied.
Let’s start with Carol Ann. As is often the case, unless you’re a player, it’s hard to know exactly what happened in the locker room. So like many Kauai residents, I look at who’s on the team to get a sense of what might have gone down. I do know Barbara Bennett to be a straight shooter, so I take her at her word when she’s quoted as saying:
“The Charter Review Commission is committed to moving this process forward as that is the Charter Review Commission’s job. Any comments from Carol Ann’s resignation stating that the commission blocked or created barriers — they are misconceptions by Miss Davis.
“We didn’t block anything, we didn’t create any barriers,” Bennett said. “We were in a process that was derailed by her resigning. ... I don’t want anybody to think this isn’t going to be taken care of.
But then I see that Sherman Shiraishi is the chair of that commission, which makes me think, OK, a lot of smarmy stuff could have being going on, especially behind the scenes. And since Barbara isn’t a political person, she likely wouldn’t even be aware of it. So I'm left not knowing what the true story really is.
And then you’ve got Jonathan, who is following in the footsteps of KEDB Director Mattie Yoshioka. Mattie previously resigned from the Charter Commission in the wake of an “advisory opinion” by the Board of Ethics that she should not appear before the County Council while serving on any county boards.
Apparently Jonathan grew weary of waiting for the Board to take an unequivocal stand on his owm request for clarification. There’s no excuse for the Board’s waffling on this issue.
Still, it’s kind of hard to know what, exactly, needs to be clarified when the Charter language is pretty darn clear:
No officer or employee of the county shall appear in behalf of private interests before any county board, commission or agency.
But then, Act 205 regarding no overnight accommodations on ag land is also pretty darn clear, and folks are still trying to “clarify” it into meaning something that better suits their own purposes. That's the thing about legal opinions. They're just opinions — issued by people who often have vested interests.
While it seems that it was proper for Mattie and Jonathan to resign, and other folks, like attorney Lorna Nishimitsu, who regularly do business with the county should follow suit, the whole issue raises a number of other thorny questions.
For starters, are the members of the Board of Ethics always ethical enough to be passing judgment? I know of one former member who flat out lied in a sworn affadavit, which certainly cast doubt on her ethical standards.
Then there’s the question of just who will serve on the county’s boards if all the insiders are removed. Since many of the movers and shakers are paid by their employers for the time they spend in service, it becomes a much greater sacrifice, especially in this economy, for folks to serve when they must do so without compensation. Perhaps people should be paid for the time they’re asked to spend in the middle of the work day. It might generate more general interest in serving on a board.
And is it any more ethical for someone like Sherman Shiraishi, who may not be personally appearing before the county, but has incredible insider connections and influence, to serve on a county commission?
Finally, is there any way to truly de-politicize what is inherently a political process, since elected officials are the ones who are approving these commission appointments?
In a small community, with an even smaller number of people who are actively involved in public affairs, folks are bound to have their fingers in a number of pies.
That's clear. What's less clear is how to be certain their public service isn't just a guise for self-service.