The black sky was a twinkling treasure trove when Koko and I went out walking this chilly, clear morn. At the far western end of the sparkling expanse, Orion and Makalii prepared to duck out of sight behind Waialeale, which I could not discern in the darkness, but knew from past experience was there. On our return, Venus was the crown jewel, guiding us toward the dawn, where a wisp of cloud was patiently waiting to turn red.
A woman remarked the other day that when she attended the Council inauguration last week, she found it significant that everyone was wearing black, except for JoAnn Yukimura, who wore red. When I asked what she thought it signified, she replied that she intuited JoAnn wanted to be taken seriously, and “what better way to center attention than to wear red...done all the time by politicians...remember Sarah Palin?”
Yes, I do remember Sarah Palin, and her tendency to “go rogue,” which JoAnn apparently also shares, as evidenced by her recent decision to level some very public and questionable accusations against newly reappointed County Clerk Peter Nakamura — right after she failed in her bid to have the Council undertake an executive search for his replacement.
It started, at least publicly, with an email that JoAnn sent out to her list at 10:56 p.m. Dec. 2, the day after the inauguration, in which she offers an explanation of why she voted against Peter’s confirmation:
There are issues which due diligence requires be cleared up before I can vote for Mr. Nakamura. The most serious is a 2009 pay raise that Mr. Nakamura accepted which he knew, or should have known, was not legal.
Note how she is initially unequivocal in her accusation of illegality. But in the next few lines, right after slinging a little mud at Kaipo Asing, she adds qualifying words, emphasis added:
It may be that the former Chair of the Council acted improperly and against Mr. Nakamura’s will and advice. However, knowing the law and how to properly establish pay raises is Mr. Nakamura’s job, and I believe Mr. Nakamura must be held personally responsible for accepting what appears to be an illegal pay raise.
Oh. So she doesn’t actually know if it’s legal or not, yet she chooses to send out a public missive accusing him of illegal activities. The email goes on to state:
By law, a pay raise for a department head in 2009 required a recommendation from the appointing body. The Clerk’s appointing body is the County Council. There is no record, to my knowledge, of a council recommendation of this pay raise. A vote, taken at a properly noticed meeting is the only way the Council can make a decision.
Now if you go to the Council minutes of Sept. 23, 2009 and scroll to the bottom of page 2, you will see the Council take up Salary Commission Resolution No. 2009-2 relating to the salaries of certain officers and employees of the county. This resolution, which the Commission adopted on Aug. 25, notes that the mayor had asked the panel to defer until Dec. 1, 2011, his pay raise, and those for his Administration that were scheduled to go into effect on Dec. 1, 2009. However, the resolution does not defer the scheduled salary increases for the Prosecuting Attorney and deputies, nor for the Council, Clerk, Deputy Clerk and Auditor.
The resolution also states that pursuant to the County Charter, the Commission’s recommendation shall take effect 60 days after its adoption “unless it’s rejected by a vote of not less than five (5) members of the Council. The Council may reject either the entire resolution or any part of it.”
On pages three through seven, you will see some Council discussion on the resolution, with Jay Furfaro, Tim Bynum and Lani Kawahara asking if they could go before the Commission to ask questions or testify before the resolution takes effect. County Attorney Al Castillo says yes, but makes it quite clear that if the Council receives the resolution that day, “it’s approved” and could then only be amended by the Commission. In fact, on page six he says, “it’s my opinion it would be better to defer because if it does take effect today you would have to reverse… you would be asking the salary commission to reverse that they have suggested.”
Yet on page eight, the motion to receive the communication, which means the pay raises would go into effect, carried unanimously by the Council. So the Council did approve the pay raise at a duly noticed public meeting.
Not one Councilmember, not even Tim Bynum, who joined JoAnn in later taking her allegations against Peter to The Garden Island said a word against Peter receiving the raise. The resolution also states that the appointee must receive a favorable evaluation. I do not know if that occurred, since it would be in a private personnel file. However, several weeks ago, I did ask Peter if he was evaluated each year, and he said yes, and if any shortcomings in his performance had been pointed out to him during those evaluations, and he said no.
Surely, if Tim were concerned about the process or Peter, he could have raised the issue before he voted to receive — or in other words, accept — the Commission's recommendation of a raise for the Clerk.
The Garden Island ran a splashy headline about how the Clerk makes more than the mayor — in fact, it has raised that point at least twice before in recent weeks, once claiming, falsely, that the Clerk is the highest paid employee in the County. In fact, the Clerk currently earns the same as the Prosecuting Attorney and County Auditor. All three salaries are set at the same level as other County department heads, who would have been making the same as the Clerk, Auditor and Prosecutor if their 2009 raises hadn’t been deferred.
As you can see from the Salary Commission’s most recent communication to the Council, Resolution No. 2010-1, those deferred raises will go into effect on July 1, 2011. At that time the mayor will be making more than anyone, with pay of $122,504, and his deputy, Gary Heu, will be earning the second-highest pay, at $117,911. So the newspaper’s coverage of salaries is sensational and disingenuous, at best, and deliberately misleading, at worst.
JoAnn also juiced up the newspaper article with some accusations that weren’t in her original email by claiming Peter, who has never taken a real vacation in all the years he's been Clerk, was paid for unused vacation time. Tim, meanwhile, used the opportunity to throw in some dirt left over from the last term, saying the Clerk took a long time to respond to some Council requests for documents before going on to claim that Peter reportedly had had difficulty locating electronic records of council meeting minutes:
“Does this not leave an unacceptable risk that these key public documents could be lost completely?” Bynum asked.
Come on, Tim, you know darn well the official record of the county is intact, so quite trying to pretend otherwise.
While Peter Nakamura, and by extension, former Council Chair Kaipo Asing, are the overt targets of this attack, JoAnn is simultaneously dinging the four Councilmembers — Jay Furfaro, Mel Rapozo, Dickie Chang and Derek Kawakami — who voted for Peter’s confirmation. Or rather, voted against her desire to have an executive search team find his replacement.
Because let’s be quite clear here: this is a power struggle, pure and simple. It's all about JoAnn wanting her way.
Tim, the Council outsider, is only too happy to go along for the ride because it serves his own desire to get rid of Peter, who he sees as an extension of his old enemy, Kaipo.
What’s really unfortunate for the people, however, is the giant rift that JoAnn and Tim have created in the Council.
Just a few weeks ago Councilmembers were expressing optimism that the polarization of the past term was over and work on pressing issues could finally proceed.
Now the term is stalled at its start, with lots of bad feelings all around.
It’s looking to be a long and ugly two years ahead.