Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Musings: Bridging the Gulf

It’s been dusk to dawn beauty here, starting with the crescent moon, gold white in a soft, smoldery-orange sunset sky, followed by blackness illuminated by a zillion twinkling stars, with brilliant Jupiter up front and center, and after that, the gentle pink of morning, with mists and haze lounging in the lowlands, the mountains deep blue and a scarlet-rimmed cloud bearing the rising sun.

There’s no natural way to segue from glory like that into the mundane doings of political beings, so I’ll just jump right in and note that today is the first time the Council will be meeting since Councilmembers JoAnn Yukimura and Tim Bynum dug a deep divide between themselves and the rest of the body. It’s also the first time that folks at home can have the pleasure of watching the action — or at least, what can be caught on camera — via online streaming.

We’ll also be able to watch Planning and Police commission meetings, and Mayor Bernard Carvalho’s weekly show, “Together We Can.” Oh, will our joys never cease!

Which reminds me of one of my favorite comments of late, left in response to my report on attending a Council meeting and uneasily watching some sausage-making in progress: you know why there's so many political vegans out there


The planning committee will be taking up the shoreline bill, which Caren Diamond and I discussed on our last radio show. Councilman Mel Rapozo weighed in with the observation that “obviously the Administration and County Attorney’s office are pushing to pass the bill,” which he said will essentially “allow people with smaller buildable areas to build bigger homes.”

And this at a time when Hawaii coastal expert Dr. Chip Fletcher, who attended the recent workshop on the shoreline bill, told me that erosion rates used in determining shoreline setbacks have been underestimated. “There are lots of reasons to build farther back from the coast,” he said. “We want lot lines and plots to be deeper and have long lines perpendicular to the coast, so buildings are set back farther.”

But hey, who wants to listen to the experts when they’re telling you things you don’t want to hear?

Getting back to Mel for a minute, I’d asked him to call into the radio show that day to explain why he cast the lone vote against reaffirming Al Castillo as County Attorney. Mel said he was concerned about the ethics of Al, Deputy County Attorney Ian Jung and former Deputy County Attorney — and now interim Planning Director — Mike Dahilig apparently lobbying Councilman Dickie Chang at his home, over a cold pack, on the vacation rental bill.

But that wasn’t all. “There are some very serious things going on with the County Attorney’s office,” he said. “I want to get a special counsel to investigate.”

When I pressed for more details, Mel wouldn’t elaborate, saying he wanted to discuss the issue with his fellow Councilmembers in more detail.

Now compare that to JoAnn’s approach in resolving her concerns about County Clerk Peter Nakamura, which she took to her supporters and then to the local newspaper. I looked back and saw the Council held an Executive Session on Nov. 22 to talk about the appointment of the Clerk and Council Services staff and on Nov. 30 to talk specifically about the Clerk.

Surely she had an opportunity to raise at least some of her objections in those sessions. And though she claims she was not able to access all county records prior to being sworn in on Dec. 1, and so could not conduct her “due diligence.” But after that, she did have full access to all records.

So instead of playing politics, she very easily could have done her due diligence at that time and reported it back to the Council in an Executive Session, where personnel matters are most appropriately discussed, Indeed, they are one reason that Hawaii’s sunshine law allows an official body to meet in closed sessions. If there was evidence of wrongdoing, the Council could have voted at that time to fire the Clerk or take whatever action was deemed appropriate.

That would have been the decent thing to do, the fair thing to do, the approach that would have protected Peter's privacy.

So why did JoAnn go public with her unsubstantiated accusations? Why did she decide to taint and target Peter in that way? She knew, or should have known, that this is a private employee relations matter that should be addressed in executive session, just as she knew, or should have known, that personnel issues raised in closed session really shouldn’t be discussed publicly.

In short, JoAnn simply wasn’t acting in good faith.

The question now is what she will do to set things right, restore the trust between Councilmembers that has been damaged and heal the rift that has polarized the Council even before it had a chance to get started.

Because I’m quite sure that the public does not want to see another two years of bickering, fighting and dysfunction. Not when there is so much that needs to be done.


Anonymous said...

Mel is just mad because he was opposed to the tvr bill.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Joan for clarity. It really pains me to see JoAnn behave in a way that does not reflect the integrity that I thought she had. There was a better way to handle the issues surrounding the clerk. Whatever her reasons the negative repercussions outweigh her motives. Peter didn't deserve that public humiliation. Do your homework JoAnn and don't do your Council business in the press w/out being able to back up your allegations after a thorough investigation. Take the politics out of it and do the work.

Anonymous said...

JoAnn wasn't on the council yet and so wasn't at the Nov 22 or 30 executive sessions. And the vote on appointing the clerk came minutes after she was sworn in and was given access to confidential records.

Joan Conrow said...

Yes, JoAnn was at the Nov. 22 and 30 meetings, which were for only the newly-elected Council members. And since she was pressing for an executive search to seek his replacement at the Nov. 22 meeting, she certainly must have had some indication of the allegations she later raised.

Anonymous said...

“obviously the Administration and County Attorney’s office are pushing to pass the bill,” which he said will essentially “allow people with smaller buildable areas to build bigger homes.”

oh, OK - I guess I missed that part in the reading of the bill, oh I see, throw mud, see what sticks.

Anonymous said...

please remind council that expending money on things like executive searches while employees are suffering is intolerable.

votes do count.

Anonymous said...

i'm not sure i'd describe the actions of tb & jy as polarizing; they're just two of seven. those are losing numbers if anything. not gonna do much if these numbers stick.

Anonymous said...

many good and educated people worked on the shoreline bill - with the intent to preserve and protect - why is that so hard to understand.

Anonymous said...

Politicians have no qualms about spending money because it doesn't come out of their pocket. Studies, consultants, executive searches, and on and on and on. Then you have these meetings that are so inefficiently run because they love to hear themselves talk. Are they getting paid based on the amount of time they spend puffing themselves up or demonstrating how "smart" or "knowledgeable" they are?

Anonymous said...

I hear you. Get to the business at hand. They can go on and on for hours but public testimony is allotted 3 minutes. How efficient our County would be if they were limited to 3 minutes each on every agenda item.

Anonymous said...

JoAnn spoke out because of her integrity and her responsibility. She did her homework and found important issues. Time will tell the tale.

Anonymous said...

I believe that this whole issue will pass, as the council scrambles to figure out how to conduct its meetings in general thus holding up legislative process so they can all figure out how best to accommodate each other.
It seemed to me as business as usual, the general public goes last, has the least amount of time to speak, and the issues are still presented in far too much of an ambiguous manner. Comments are taken but never listened to unless you are someone important who matters.
This is a true lame duck session. I was impressed with Nadine however. This should be interesting to see the two women sitting next to each other. That is a council first for seating arrangements. Further, we could use a few more women on the council . It seems we can never seem to break the glass ceiling of two for some strange reason.

By the way the streaming is up and works fine. It was interesting to see just how much time is taken up with those presentations. They should be done on a different day and in the evening so that more family members can attend, and streamed as well. I timed it.
It took one hour and twelve minutes. More then half the meeting. I can think of several more agenda items that could have been accommodated during that time. I believe the recognitions and awards should happen and be streamed, but not during legislative regular sessions, but during "special Sessions" specifically for that purpose.