The planning department has also managed to get all the TVR documents into 644 distinct files, organized chronologically, in the three-plus months since the 18-part Abuse Chronicles began exposing the fraud, zoning violations and improper approvals behind 25 TVR certificates.
“We're making progress,” said Councilman Gary Hooser after listening to Mike's presentation yesterday— a presentation that was halted a month ago when Mike split to attend another meeting, then sidelined two weeks ago when County Attorney Al Castillo said he'd advised Mike not to show, and if he did, he might have to plead the Fifth.
No explanation was given for that bizarre scene other than Mike acknowledging he was there yesterday of his own free will. And this time, he brought along almost the entire planning department. Mike also apologized and said he “didn't mean any disrespect” by his previous actions. Even if they were classic ditch-and-stall tactics.
Using a power point presentation, Mike threw out a lot of numbers about inspections and denials, which were self-serving and also suspect, considering the department cannot even say how many TVR permits it has issued. Or to use his phrasing, “As we're counting, that is one number we have not gotten to yet.”
Mike also apprised the County Council of his long-awaited plans to tackle the TVR mess. For example, he wants to form a team “to drill down on a sample case” for enforcement. “Once we get the team galvanized on that we can begin to start running this thing up the flagpole.”
When pressed for specifics, Mike promised that by Sept. 30, “we will try to get something teed-up for submittal to the planning commission or a judge or issue some kind of fine notice.”
He also said the department is “doing things to enforce,” primarily “going after the low-hanging fruit,” such as sending cease and desist letters to people who missed the renewal deadline or had “forms missing.” The department was also trying to identify which TVR owners might be likely to “lawyer up” — as in put up a fight.
So does that mean the little guys will be targeted for enforcement, while the guys who can afford to hire Jonathan Chun and Lorna Nishimitsu will be given a free pass?
Still, it quickly became clear that the department doesn't have a handle on the core issue, which is what to do about all the applicants who never submitted the proper documentation from the get-go, and/or lied in their affidavits. In other words, what are they going to do about all the people who never should have gotten permits, but did?
When Councilman Tim Bynum broached the subject, Mike replied: “Looking at the files, there were mistakes that were made. Our job is to make sure mistakes like that don't happen.”
Tim pushed for more specifics.
“If a mistake was made we need to figure out how to fix it,” Mike said. “To be honest, Councilman, we may have to give it a college try if those mistakes were made.”
Oh, those mistakes were made. Garans. Not one of the 25 applications examined in the Abuse Chronicles included all the documentation required for initial approval, such as proof that general excise and transient accommodation taxes were paid and reservation logs showing TVR prior use prior to March 2008. Others were missing the sworn affidavits. So unless all that documentation was stuffed off in a box somewhere and has been miraculously recovered, those TVR permits shouldn't have been granted. But they were. Now what?
It's a problem that needs to be addressed ASAP, because most of the certificates come up for renewal in July. And as Gary noted, “It seems like it would be kind of inappropriate to renew a permit that has unresolved issues.” He wanted to know how Mike planned to respond.
“Once we get our arms around the breadth and scope of the issue we can see what we can do,” Mike said.
Council Chair Jay Furfaro seemed mollified by Mike's presentation — to the point where he breached the Sunshine Law and began making a pitch to delay the threatened Council investigation, which is on next week's agenda, until October to give the Administration time to get its act together.
Others, however, were not so trusting. Councilman Mel Rapozo said he'd seen a lot of power point presentations over the years, heard a lot of promises, and "frankly, this is too little, too late.”
Gary and Tim also said they weren't convinced the Administration's latest enforcement effort precluded the need for an investigation to find out how this mess happened, and why. Both initiatives can and should happen simultaneously, they said.
I'm inclined to agree. Despite Mike's propensity for vacuous idioms — which brings to mind a George Carlin spoof on political speak — I have no doubt that he is bright enough to figure out a system for managing the TVRs and could certainly oversee a proper enforcement effort.
But it's not really about what Mike wants, or can do.
It's about his what his boss wants. And that's Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. — the man who appointed Mike to his job, in violation of the County Charter; the man who transferred Ian Costa and Imai Aiu out of the planning department when the TVR process was already in shambles and gave them other county jobs; the man who pushed the Council to amend the law in 2010 and remove the documentation and inspection requirements.
Does Bernard truly want this mess cleaned up, seeing as how he's been sitting on it for four years and only responded when the Council started talking about an investigation?
Jay can scold and lecture Mike all he wants, but Bernard is the person who needs to have his feet held to the fire. And that's only going to happen if there's a Council investigation.