As the Kauai County Council ponders adopting a county manger form of government, it might do well to consider the case of Darnell Earley.
If the name doesn't ring a bell, he was the emergency city manager when Flint, Mich., switched from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to the Karegnondi Water Authority — a move that prompted them to pump lead-contaminated drinking water from the Flint River in the interim.
But Earley is accepting no responsibility — and no blame — for the decision to use the Flint River as a temporary drinking water source. He claims the mayor and city council approved the action, though there is no record of a resolution or vote to that effect.
Earley initially refused to testify before the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. That prompted Committee Chair Jason Chaffetz to call for U.S. Marshalls “to hunt him down and give him that subpoena.” His attorney has since said Earley will accept a second subpoena if issued.
In other words, a city manager is not necessarily infallible, more accountable, a cronyism-buster or a white knight. A city manager is simply a person who is as prone to incompetence, irresponsibility and self-serving actions as anyone else.
The position is not, in and of itself, the answer to Kauai's nepotism, cronyism, parochialism or any other ism.
Just a little something to think about as the County Council prepares to waste an entire day kicking around the concept of a county manager — a move that would require voter approval and substantial changes to the County Charter.
Come on, guys. Instead of trying to wrest power from the mayor — the Council would hire and oversee the manager, with the mayor relegated to a more ceremonial position — why not use the power you've got to actually do something?
Councilman Mel Rapozo has been chair of the Council for over a year now, with a majority voting bloc at his disposal. Yet so far, the Council has achieved nothing of significance, despite the many pressing issues facing Kauai.
So I'll offer a few words of unsolicited advice to the Council:
Put this idea on a shelf. Let one of the bigger, smarter counties try it first.
Prove to us that you can hire a qualified, effective county auditor — one who isn't a political crony; one who actually does the job; one who can be fired without it costing the taxpayers a pile of dough in a lawsuit.
Pass some meaningful bills that address real problems, like affordable housing, substance abuse, traffic gridlock, climate change.
Conduct a meeting, and engage in respectful dialogue with one other, without it degenerating into a pissing match.
And then, once you've shown voters you can actually do the job you're elected to do, it might be time to begin considering whether Kauai would benefit from a total revamping of its administrative system to give the Council and its manager more power.