I’ve been thinking a lot about Councilwoman Lani Kawahara and her recent public announcement that she'd been the victim of harassment while serving on that panel.
It’s clear, given the large settlements the county recently paid out — and reports that several other settlements have been approved in secret — that the county has a major problem with sexual harassment and hostile work environments.
That fact is borne out by the county’s own revelation that the county attorney’s office, police department and liquor control had conducted no employee training on this topic, even though all three have been named in discrimination and harassment suits. Nor had such training been done for employees in the fire, housing and finance/risk management departments.
That’s inexcusable in this day and age, especially given the county’s abysmal record in this area. It’s also bizarre, considering the county’s deep-seated paranoia about liability in beach access and land planning issues.
So it’s great that Lani and her Council ally, Tim Bynum, brought up this issue in public session. The county obviously needs to get on it.
But that bigger issue unfortunately was eclipsed by Lani’s decision to throw her own experience into the mix by referencing an incident with Chairman Kaipo Asing that allegedly happened well over a year ago. Furthermore, it was an incident that the police initially determined to be unfounded and that she herself chose not to pursue, reportedly telling the cops four months later that Kaipo had not bothered her since.
Still, Lani apparently felt so deeply victimized that she tearfully brought up the alleged incident at a public Council meeting some 14 months after it happened. So the question is, why didn't she speak up sooner? She didn’t have to wait for a related topic to come up on the agenda. She could have made a public statement at any time, and I’m sure she would have found support. By doing so, it might have turned into an opportunity to make some positive changes that could have protected other Councilmembers from harassment in the future.
Instead, by waiting until just a few weeks before the election to air her allegation — and let’s not forget that it remains an allegation — it comes out looking like a political attack on Kaipo. And since she’s nearly out of office, she has lost all opportunity to affect any kind of positive changes in the county in this regard. So what, really, is the point of bringing it up now?
If Lani felt the Chair was harassing her, she should have brought it up with the other Council members, sought mediation, made an ethics complaint or taken some similar action. Calling the cops about an alleged hand gesture was overkill and ultimately a waste of everyone’s time, especially since she later withdrew the complaint.
That’s not to say there’s no problem on the Council. Anyone who has watched the current Council in action knows that it’s a deeply dysfunctional body with some pretty ugly interpersonal dynamics. Lani, Kaipo and Tim have been engaged in power struggles that haven’t served the public interest in any way, and the other members haven’t stepped in to stop it.
We need to restore some decorum to the Council chambers. I’m not talking about the kind of forced decorum you find in court, where the judge can lock you up if you don’t behave, but decorum based on mutual respect and consideration. I do see that with Jay Furfaro and Derek Kawakami, even though I don’t always agree with their votes, and since it looks like both will be re-elected, I hope one will be named chair and restore some dignity to that panel.
I’d also like to see people in general get away from this trend of calling the cops for every little thing — especially things that people really should be working out on their own.
The other day at work, two cop cars showed up to talk to a woman. Seems they’d been called by a man who didn’t want her to stop and chat with him anymore when she was out walking. They're called all the time for extremely minor stuff, which is why petty disputes turn into petty criminal charges that clog the judiciary. I saw that the other day in court, too, when a man was sentenced for harassment after cutting electrical power to a beach pavilion when a woman refused to turn down her music.
Really, people, do we need to call the cops for every little thing? Have we gotten to the place as a society where we can’t resolve even our smallest disputes without calling in a man with a gun?