Friday, April 27, 2012

Musings: Friday Mix

The mountains were clear this morning, and so was the sky above them, which is why Arcturus stood out so boldly, glowing red as Mars and capturing my attention when the dogs and I went walking.

I happened to turn on KKCR while heading over to the beach yesterday afternoon, and the interview with 2nd Congressional District candidate Tulsi Gabbard unexpectedly caught my attention. I really knew nothing about her, but she was saying all the right things. For starters, she wants to bring the troops home from Afghanistan ASAP, and since she's been deployed twice to the Middle East with the National Guard, she knows how badly war sucks and wouldn't be quick to wage one.

What's more, she'll fight to have GMO foods labeled. And when host Jimmy Trujillo asked about her stance on health care, she spoke of how her brother couldn't afford insurance for his son, who has a pre-existing condition, before saying, “The government has a responsibility to take care of people who don't have a voice, and that's us and our families.”

In the course of 15 minutes, my thinking shifted from, I am not even going to vote this year, I am so disgusted with politics, to wow, she sounds like someone I could support. Shows you just what a dreamer I am, always holding out hope that things might actually change through the political process.

I was brought back to reality when I heard SHOPO will not be endorsing Justin Kollar for Kauai prosecutor. Though they haven't come out officially as backing incumbent Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho, it kinda tells you something when a law enforcement organization blows off the squeaky clean candidate in the race. 

In other news, I just got a copy of the County Attorney's opinion that holds people who operate a transient vacation rental can still claim a homeowner's exemption on their real property taxes. The key is whether it's the taxpayer's “principal home." To use the example in the opinion, someone can rent out their property for three months, and still claim it's their principal residence. But what about renting for nine months? Or six months? And how, exactly, is that principal status determined and — ha ha— enforced?

So I'm left wondering, how is it that the county considers a TVR a commercial property for purposes of assessing trash collection fees, yet it can be treated as a principal, personal home when it comes to property taxes?

Meanwhile, a WESPAC-backed effort has begun to have the Hawaii population of green sea turtles “delisted” as a threatened species, as I reported in Honolulu Weekly.

And finally, though I rapped the LA Times a bit for a recent article on agtourism, the same writer redeemed himself in a foodie blog post about Makaweli Poi — the mill that is striving to keep Hawaiians in the "taro industry"  — that showed he really got it.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Musings: Things to Think About

The sky was a mosaic of gray, patches of clouds pieced together with white, blue, a few streaks of gold, when the dogs and I went walking this morning. It's the time of year when the days stretch long, when I can walk out my door and catch a whiff of some fragrant something in bloom somewhere, and the bird song is loud enough to muffle the cacophony of crowing.

As I spent some time in the garden at the end of yesterday, digging and weeding and pruning, in anticipation of planting under this Cancer moon, I was struck by how much it produces with relatively little effort, at least on my part. The sun and rain do most of the work. And that got me thinking about abundance, and what the term really means, especially after hearing a talk by Ervin Laszlo, in which he says we are already using resources at the rate of two and a half worlds, though we've only got one. So clearly our level of consumption is driven by distorted concepts of abundance, knocking everything out of whack.

I recalled an article I'd read that stated baby boomers need to have $900,000 saved to maintain a “comfortable life” through retirement, and I thought of how far-fetched that is for 99 percent of the people I know. And I wondered if that reality might cause us to rethink our definition of a “comfortable life” in something other than economic terms, prompt us to reassess what we believe we're entitled to. Will it inspire boomers to revisit their hippie roots, come together in communes to reduce living costs? Will it lead to a de-emphasis on militarism so we can fund a single-payer health care plan and other social programs to serve the growing numbers who need a safety net? Or will it feed the next wave of colonialism as American retirees flood “third world” nations where their Social Security checks have more buying power?

Just something to think about. Gardening does that to me.

Moving into local issues, Charter Commissioner Jan TenBruggencate called to say he objected to my suggestion that the Commission choked under pressure and so nixed a proposed charter amendment aimed at clarifying whether the Mayor can suspend the police chief. Jan said he voted no because he doesn't believe any clarification is needed. "There's something broken here, but it's not the charter," he said.

But will the brokenness be fixed by the court, when the Police Commission asks it for a ruling on the matter? And if it's determined the mayor acted improperly, are there ramifications for that action, other than a political black eye that likely will be healed by the next election, or the possibility of a lawsuit brought by the chief?

Just like will there be any ramifications for the actions that led to the suppression of evidence in the cocaine smuggling case against two Gas Co. and Young Brothers employees? The Garden Island finally reported the story, a whopping 20 days after I broke the news, but in stating that “the decision came down to the credibility of witnesses” it missed the salient point: cops  lied to get a search warrant.

The same reporter also managed to both bury and miss the news about the prosecutor's alleged POHAKU improprieties, even though Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura essentially handed him the story. Interestingly, I noticed that particular article didn't even make it into the lineup available via mobile devices, though one could read about such burning issues as pineapple upside down cake day.

Then for two days running, the paper published stories and photos prominently and positively featuring Prosecutor Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho. To read them, you'd think it was all good, with no scandals plaguing her office.

I was especially amused to read the piece that starts out: “Kaua‘i Prosecuting Attorney Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho has a vision of Ka Hale Maka‘i O Kaua‘i, the home of the Office of Prosecuting Attorney, the Kaua‘i Police Department and the Kaua‘i Civil Defense, becoming a center of healing.”

Because if you go to the Office of Prosecuting Attorney website, you will find that the vision page is blank.

Which is not to say the paper should bash her, or engage in what some in the comment section of this blog have termed a witch hunt, but it really does voters a disservice to totally sweep this stuff under the rug in an election year.

And then I realized, oh, the newspaper is actively propping her up, just as it continues to perpetuate the fraud that the Kauai Independent Food Bank is a viable entity. And then what do I find in the paper today? Another article about KIFB. Sadly, you can't make this stuff up.

Smart meter opponents have made up their their own opt-out form, but KIUC isn't accepting it. Though CEO David Bissell said the utility won't force anyone to take a smart meter “at this time,” it isn't going so far as to let folks submit a form that states their rejection is the final word on the matter, and the cost of the unwanted meter will be rebated to the member's account.

While many of the concerns raised about smart meters have focused on health issues, others worry about its implications for privacy.

Of course, if you've been following a series of shocking programs broadcast on Democracy Now! over the past week you'll have learned the government has already spent billions to invade our privacy. According to former National Security Agency whistleblower William Binney, domestic surveillance is expanding under the Obama administration:

Actually, I think the surveillance has increased. In fact, I would suggest that they’ve assembled on the order of 20 trillion transactions about U.S. citizens with other U.S. citizens.

That includes almost all of the emails sent and received from most people living in the United States, as well as phone records and other personal data.

Meanwhile, Congress is considering CISPA, a bill drafted by a former FBI agent that will create, according to Michelle Richardson of the ACLU, “an exception to all existing privacy laws so that [cyber] companies can share very sensitive and personal information directly with the government, including military agencies like the National Security Agency. And then, once the government has it, they can repurpose it and use it for a number of things, including an undefined national security use. The violations of privacy are just amazing.”

We've all bought into the computer age, which is oh-so-handy for researching and reaching out to friends and buying stuff anywhere in the world. But it also gives the government an unprecedented ability to track our every move, compile vast amounts of data on every aspect of our existence. And according to those in the know, it is.

The question is, why? Just what does it plan to do with all this stuff?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Musings: Creeping Cynicism

Richard Minatoya has been named special prosecutor in Councilman Tim Bynum's misdemeanor zoning violation case after Prosecutor Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho's entire office was recused for conflict of interest.

As you may recall, Minatoya was a Kauai County Councilman from 1994-96 before becoming first deputy for former Kauai Prosecutor Craig DeCosta. He's now a deputy prosecutor on Maui. And I'm left thinking, of all the prosecutors in the state, the Attorney General's office chose one who is not just a Kauai boy, but one with political connections?

Or maybe I'm being overly cynical. Covering politics does that to you.

Meanwhile, the county Charter Commission last night killed a proposed charter amendment intended to clarify that the mayor does not have the power to discipline the police chief. Although the County Council doesn't have to finalize its proposed charter amendments until August, county staff were telling Charter Commission members they had to decide last night which measures they want to put on the ballot. So they choked under the pressure and caved — even though the only person who testified against such an amendment was the mayor's top assistant, Gary Heu.

Councilman Mel Rapozo urged the Commission to adopt the amendment, saying that given the mayor's current interpretation of the Charter, he could exert power even over elected officials. Council Chair Jay Furfaro said the Council has its own resolution on the issue, but was waiting to see what the Commission did. And now we'll be waiting to see what the Council does...

Interestingly, the Charter Commission had asked for — but was not given — a copy of County Attorney Al Castillo's opinion that supposedly authorized Mayor Bernard Carvalho to first suspend Police Chief Darryl Perry on Feb. 1, and then place him on leave. The police commission immediately voted to re-instate Perry, but Carvalho would not allow his return until March 12.

So fascinating how the County Attorney works. When he wants to give information, folks don't want to hear it, but when people want the information he's given, he doesn't want to release it.

The Charter Commission also wisely nixed Shay's request for an amendment that would have removed her budget from the mayor's oversight. I don't think anyone in their right mind would want to give the prosecutor's office more discretionary power right now, especially over money.

Which brings to mind a couple of things that jumped out at me from Shay's budget session with the Council last Friday, aside from the high drama over stifling public questioning about her POHAKU program. When asked how her deputies have fared, given the rapid turnover in her office and the 58 months that prosecutors positions have been unfilled, Shay replied:

“If attorneys are not able to keep up with working 50 to 70 hours a week and deal with the emotional trauma of having to deal in court every day, they are people just not fit for that job.”

Why should people have to work 50 to 70 hours a week and face the stress of court every day just because Shay can't keep her office fully staffed?

I was also amused when Shay revealed she had wanted her own "protocol officer," but personnel reworked the position. It's bad enough that Bernard hired a valet, but now the prosecutor wants one, too? Of course, such an employee would presumably be paid less than Shay's first deputy Jake Delaplane, who currently plays the step and fetchit role.....

Oh, and after someone left this comment:

what about the County's "Executive Protocol Officer" Sean Texeira getting wasted at a party on county property, getting in a accident, abandoning the vehicle and opening up the county to liability issues should he have harmed someone?

I followed up with the county spokeswoman Beth Tokioka and learned: 

I believe this comment is referring to an after-hours gathering that happened on County property last September.  Because it happened on County property, disciplinary action was taken, but I can’t share with you those details as they are a personnel matter.  As for anything that might have happened off County property – I have no record of that.

And then there was the pointed exchange between Shay and Tim, who finally had the chance to directly address his nemesis. After Shay claimed she had fired “several, oh more than several” deputies for “dishonesty,” she went on to say: “If you are a dishonest person you do not deserve or should be a member in an occupation being paid by the public in the prosecutor's office, and I agree with that, too.”

This prompted Tim to ask: “That criteria would apply to anyone in your office?” To which Shay replied, “About being dishonest? Of course.”

There you have it.

Btw, I did offer both Jake and Shay equal space to respond to the concerns laid out in my post about POHAKU, but I haven't heard anything back.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Musings: Crafting an Illusion

It's a cool, gray, blustery day, the kind that doesn't exist if you believe the always blue skies, everything is groovy myth of Hawaii tourism promotions. And unfortunately, so many travel writers do. It's always dismaying for me to see how falsely the Islands are portrayed.

Most recently, the Los Angeles Times ran a piece on how agtourism has taken off in Hawaii, most notably Kauai, which is kind of true. The tourism part is slowly growing. It's just the agriculture part that remains stalled. Now that all the “secret spots” have been discovered, novelty-hungry tourists are moving on to the next big thing: sunshine markets and farm-sourced menu items in the fancy restaurants. But we're not any closer to actually feeding ourselves.

And I had to giggle at another LA Times piece that offered this explanation for all the festivals in the Islands:

Hawaii loves to celebrate.

In truth, most of the festivals are funded by the Hawaii Tourism Association to entertain visitors. Remember when Maryanne Kusaka decided Kauai would become the festival island? It wasn't driven by some spontaneous grassroots desire to celebrate, but an intentional effort to boost the economy after Iniki.

Then there was the horrible piece in the Chicago Tribune by a guy who hadn't been here in a decade. Yet he found nothing changed, even though he was staying in Poipu, where it's pretty hard to miss the massive Kukuiula project. But what can you expect from someone who reports that Hanalei and Haena were plantation towns — cuz ya know, wasn't nothing here before the white folks arrived — or takes a boat trip past Polihale, where the Navy has seized five miles of public beach, and says, “Not a hint of trouble in paradise.”

Most recently, there's been a spate of coverage prompted by that really sucky movie “The Descendants,” which supposedly “reveals the island through the eyes of the people who live there,” as if the people who live here are all self-absorbed, wealthy, haole urbanites who never pump $5-per-gallon gas or take shitty jobs in the pesticide drenched GMO seed fields. So now poor Hanalei, site of numerous scenes, is getting heavily promoted, with the Chicago Tribune proclaiming: “Hanalei Bay is surprisingly unspoiled, at least in the offseason.” Mmmm, might want to ask a few locals mourning the loss of their beach about that.

Meanwhile, despite the movie's implausible ending, which has the missionary descendant heroically choosing preservation over development, we're watching a very different drama go down. This one, the real one, has the Wilcox descendants selling out to AOL tycoon Steve Case, a guy with a net worth of $1.5 billion who is evicting families from their lifelong homes at Koloa Camp so his Grove Farm Co. can wrest some small profit out of a 50-unit modular housing project.

But in paradise, like Hollywood, truth is a liability. It's all about crafting an illusion.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Musings: Rock Bottom

Kauai Prosecutor Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho may be running afoul of the county code of ethics and state procurement law with the POHAKU program she launched last year.

Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura said she was concerned about the prosecutor's relationship to Strategic Justice Partners, a restorative justice consulting company that is listed on the POHAKU website. A search of state business registration identifies Jake Delaplane, the first deputy prosecutor, as Strategic Justice Partner's agent, and its address as the Office of the Prosecuting Attorney.

“I think that's a violation of the ethics code because you're using public property for private use and there's a potential conflict that Jake would be their agent,” JoAnn told me during a break in yesterday's Council meeting.

Some people are given the choice of going through POHAKU to get their misdemeanor charges dropped. But they must pay $200 to register for the one-day class, and it appears the money is going to Strategic Justice Partners. 

JoAnn also had questions about how Strategic Justice Partners had come to provide services to POHAKU. In checking with the county Purchasing Department, I found it has no record of a request for proposal (RFP) related to the POHAKU program, and no contracts for services related to the POHAKU program.

“This is raising serious questions about the procurement process, especially because she's [Shay's] an attorney and the highest paid department level manager, so she should know,” JoAnn said.

County procurements are governed by HRS 103D, which generally requires competitive bidding. Violations can carry misdemeanor charges.

JoAnn had planned to ask Shay about POHAKU's operations during yesterday's budget hearing. But County Attorney Al Castillo advised against any inquiries related to the program, saying Shay's rights could be violated if she was questioned without having an attorney present.

So why does Shay even need legal representation — or as Al put it, someone to tell her which questions she should and should not answer — during a routine county budget hearing? Is she legally vulnerable? 

Other questions remain about the financial structure of the POHAKU program. In checking with the county Purchasing Department, there are no invoices and expenditures associated with POHAKU, which has been running since last year. It's also unclear exactly where the registration fees paid by the 49 participants to date have gone. People must deposit payment at Bank of Hawaii or pay on line. When I called the toll-free helpline on POHAKU's on-line registration form, I was directed to a voice mail that said I had reached Strategic Justice Partners and Resolve Class dot com.

The County Charter's Code of Ethics states: No officer or employee of the county shall: C. Acquire financial interest in business enterprises which he may be directly involved in official action to be taken by him. E. Use his official position to secure a special benefit,privilege or exemption for himself or others. F. Use county property for other than public activity or purpose.  

A violation can be grounds for suspension or removal from office. Shay is facing re-election this year.

The Council has had some inkling of problems since at least April 4, when Council Chair Jay Furfaro acknowledged in public session that he had asked the prosecutor to answer questions about POHAKU and a related grant program. Al also said he had received “a couple of confidential communications from the Council” about the program.

Yet the Council has repeatedly deferred executive sessions that were set precisely to fill everybody in.

Just this last Wednesday, the county attorney's office was practically begging the Council to accept a briefing on the issue, citing potential liability concerns. But even then a majority turned it down. Instead, they acquiesced to Shay and agreed with her request to put it off for two weeks.

Jay vowed there won't be any more deferrals, and JoAnn has already asked to have Shay come back and answer questions about POHAKU for the budget. But in light of the serious squelching that's already gone on, it's hard to imagine Shay will ever be asked these hard questions in a public forum — if at all. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

Musings: Strange But True

I went  to the County Council meeting today, seeking clues about why the prosecutor's problematic POHAKU program just can't be discussed in public.  In the process, I witnessed a surreal drama. And no, I'm not making this stuff up.

Cast of characters: Councilmembers Mel Rapozo, JoAnn Yukimura, Tim Bynum, KipuKai Kualii, Nadine Nakamura and Dickie Chang; Prosecutor Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho; County Attorney Al Castillo

Staging: Handsomely remodeled Council chambers in historic county building

Setting: Council Chair Jay Furfaro is absent, leaving Mel in charge. Shay's first deputy, Jake Delaplane is wrapping up a one-hour re-election promo for his boss, cleverly disguised as a power point budget presentation. He has more, but even Mel, a solid Shay supporter, is prodding him to move along so there's time for questions. Jake speaks enthusiastically about the POHAKU program, Shay's shining star, with no mention of the ominous cloud that now hangs over it.

The power point flashes to a new slide, and Shay takes over the narration, accusing the County Attorney's office of continually working against the interests of her office, repeated conflicts of interest and “constant attacks.” Shay's message to the Council is clear: she wants money to hire special counsel for her office.

The air is crackling with tension. The time for questions has arrived. Jake rubs the perpetual five o'clock shadow on his chin. Shay straightens the carnation lei that matches her pink jacket. JoAnn, the one person certain to question Shay about POHAKU, has her hand up. Mel clears his throat.

Mel: I've been informed the county attorney is conflicting out on the POHAKU program. Until special counsel can be appointed, we won't talk about it.

JoAnn: POHAKU is in the budget. I have a right to ask about it. I don't understand the basis of the ruling.

Mel: It's not my rule. It's the county attorney's opinion.

Al: Mumbo jumbo, mumbo jumbo, prudent for CA's office to declare conflict, mumbo jumbo.

JoAnn: I want to ask some questions based on public information. I don't see how my rights can be curtailed on that.

Mel: I know people think I usually don't agree with the county attorney's advice, but this time I do. But just so everybody knows, I didn't request that advice. It was given to me.

Al: I don't want to go any further in potentially violating my client's rights.

JoAnn: Who is your client?

Al: I represent the whole county. 

Mel: He advises me and I control the discussion on the floor.

Tim: If we would've had those executive sessions on POHAKU that we keep putting off, would we be in this situation?

Mel: I'm gonna be the judge here. That's speculation. Nobody can answer that. If Al can answer that, I'm gonna take him to Vegas with me.

Al: The answer is no.

Tim: Is this all because of the conflict issue that Shay just raised in her power point?


Tim: How dare what happen?

Mel: Al, take your client outside and answer his question.

Tim and Al exit to the hallway.  A recess is called. The Council breaks up. JoAnn and Mel engage in a spat over fairness before JoAnn exits and Mel approaches Shay, who is fuming.

Shay: This is ridiculous. This is a waste of my time. You need to get your Council rules in order. I see a lot of violators of the rules and it's not being called. She's smarter than the County Attorney, apparently. This is such a waste of my time. 

I seek out JoAnn and ask, what were the questions you were going to ask about POHAKU? 

                            ACT II

It's after lunch and everyone is reassembled. I've gone home and am watching on line, via the county's webcast. Jay is back at the helm. Everyone except Nadine is clearly scratchy after being cooped up together for two long weeks of budget hearings. JoAnn has just finished questioning Shay about the 300 percent increase in her travel budget and is moving on to other topics.

JoAnn: Do you try cases?

Shay: I try a lot of cases.

JoAnn: I thought you said you didn't.

Shay: No, I said I'm the only prosecutor in the whole state who tries cases. 

JoAnn: Oh, I was only aware of you trying one case, the Tim Bynum zoning misdemeanor.

Shay: Sputter, sputter, hissssss. I'm trying the Hilario murder case.

JoAnn:  I thought John Murphy was trying that.

Jay: Ladies, ladies.

At JoAnn's request, Al takes the stand.

JoAnn: How come Shay got to talk about POHAKU but we don't? How can we do our due diligence on her budget if we can't ask about POHAKU? I want to schedule another meeting where we can question her about POHAKU.

Tim: I have a whole list of questions I'd like to ask.

Shay:  Can I leave? I've got a 4 o clock and it's 3:45.

Jay: Sure. We'll send the rest of the questions over by email. Try to get them back by next Tuesday, just do the best you can. 

JoAnn: It's inconceivable to me that a department head giving testimony on a budget would need a county attorney or any other attorney to advise her, and that not having one would prevent us from asking questions. 

Al: In any situation where there is some exposure to the county or county personnel they would have an attorney present advising them on whether to answer questions. But rather than risk getting into that situation with the Prosecutor, I decided to avoid it entirely. I have to protect my client. But regardless of what I thought, I wasn't the chair when the decision was made to stop you from asking about POHAKU. 

JoAnn: Who is the client you have to protect?

Al: It would be two right now: the county, the county council and the prosecutor. I'm protecting her rights, Jake's rights.

JoAnn: Their personal rights?

Al: Their personal rights,  their rights related to their work for the county. If you want to go into a special executive session, I can tell you more about why you can't ask questions about POHAKU.  The session's not on the agenda, but it's allowed under unexpected circumstances.

Tim: I think extraordinary things have happened In the past few weeks that seem intended to prevent the public from getting some information about POHAKU, and I have no faith that we will ever go into executive session on these issues. You guys are just trying to run out the clock. I'm ready to call for an emergency executive session right now to talk about this. It's time to quit playing games and serve the public.

KipuKai: It's not useful to say things like quit playing games and try to say who is and isn't serving openness to the public. It's not an emergency. We're going to be having a meeting on POHAKU anyway in a week or so. 

Mel: This whole controversy of POHAKU was generated from a inquiry from the Council. It was on the advice of Deputy County Attorney Jennifer Winn that we decided to defer the executive session the other day. It's not a stall tactic. And I'm not voting for an emergency executive session.

Jay: Jennifer Winn came here on the behalf of the prosecutor, asking for a deferral, and I extended Shay the same courtesy I would any other department head and granted her a delay. I want to make it clear there was no preferential treatment.  Now let's have a roll call vote on going into an emergency executive session.

Mel, KipuKai, Dickie:  No 

Jay, JoAnn, Tim: Yes 

(Nadine has been sent to represent Jay at a police department event.)

Jay: That's it then. It has to be a super majority, 4 of 6. The motion fails.

But though the official discussion of POHAKU stalled out, my investigation has not.  Be sure to tune in for the next installment, when the pieces of the POHAKU puzzle start falling into place.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Musings: Stall Tactics

The guv's been taking cracks lately for some lousy appointees, but here's one that's solid: Nathan Kalama has been confirmed to the Kauai-Niihau Island Burial Council. His nomination for a term expiring June 2016 was approved by the state Senate yesterday afternoon. Uncle Nathan, a respected kumu hula, brings a high level of cultural knowledge to the panel, which hasn't met since June 2011, due to lack of a quorum. (And shockingly, the minutes from that session still aren't posted on line.)

Not so solid are the maneuverings at work with Prosecuting Attorney Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho, her office's POHAKU program and now, unfortunately, a majority of the County Council.

Yesterday, the Council was scheduled to go into executive session for a briefing on the POHAKU program and a related grant application. But Shay sent over Deputy County Attorney Jennifer Winn to ask for a two-week deferral, saying Shay was trying to pull together more information for the Council.

Next up came Deputy County Attorney Mona Clark, who repeatedly urged the Council to proceed with the briefing anyway, saying things like “it will increase your knowledge base” and “the more information you have, the better.”

Mona even came straight out and said, “I think it's important the Council has as much information as possible, as soon as possible,” before noting the Council could always have a second meeting to consider any additional data that Shay compiles in the next two weeks.

Responding to a question by Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura, Mona made it clear that there are liability issues related to POHAKU, and the Council's timely knowledge of these matters could help to minimize the county's liability.

But in the end, with Councilman Mel Rapozo leading the way, the Council essentially decided that it doesn't need timely information, and is content to wait another two weeks before learning more details. Councilmen Dickie Chang and KipuKai Kualii voted with Mel for the deferral, as did Chairman Jay Furfaro, though he said the item will not be deferred again.

In two weeks, however, there won't be a need to defer the item again, because Shay's budget session with the Council — scheduled for tomorrow morning — will be pau. This means the Council will have lost an important opportunity to question Shay publicly about this matter, armed with whatever details would have been shared in yesterday's aborted executive session.

Mona even alluded to that, saying, “I think you are in a better position if you have the information. This will not prevent you for getting that additional information. It will just supplement your knowledge so you can ask applicable questions.”

So why did a majority of the Council back off? Mel's stance is understandable, because everybody knows he's a solid Shay ally, and is going to go along with what she wants. But what about the others? Why would they pass up an opportunity to be better informed about the workings of the prosecutor's office, especially when there's potential liability at stake?

How could it possibly hurt to participate in a briefing?

Especially when Jay acknowledged that he had received some answers to his initial questions about the program, but had not yet had the opportunity to share them with his colleagues.

Clearly, there's something sketchy going on with POHAKU. At the April 4 meeting, Jay publicly stated that he had questions about the program and its related grant application and had asked the County Attorney's office for answers.

County Attorney Al Castillo acknowledged he had received “a couple of confidential communications from the Council” — indicating Jay wasn't the only one who expressed concerns — and his office needed a week to respond.

Shay threw a hissy fit, claiming she was a very busy woman and these repeated delays were screwing up her schedule and besides, time was of the essence. And she made a really big deal out of how she wasn't going to apply for “free money” anymore if the Council kept holding her up.

The following week, April 11, when the issue was set to come up again, Shay sent over an email saying she'd gotten communications from the county attorney and mayor's office that she wanted to look over, so she wouldn't be attending the Council meeting. But Jay said he still wanted a briefing from the County Attorney, so they had an executive session.

Then yesterday, with the matter again on the agenda, Shay asked for and got yet another deferral. Yeah, maybe it's all totally legit and Shay is busily, as Jennifer Winn put it, getting answers and making the POHAKU program better.

Or maybe she's just playing a stall game, and the Council majority is going along.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Musings: Crappy Situations

Nature is offering up the unmistakeable signs of spring: abundant gardenia; kolea (plovers) dressed in their regal black mating attire, preparing for the long flight back to the tundra; and the first glimmers of daylight by 5:10 a.m., which is why I was out walking early with the dogs and just so happened to see the waning moon, a golden crescent cupping a pale white disc, floating above the treetops in a parfait-layered sky of pink, blue, orange and gray.

I never really thought much about what happened to sewage effluent in Hawaii until several months ago, when I learned Earthjustice was preparing litigation over the practice of using injection wells to pump semi-treated wastewater into the ground. The complaint was filed Monday, and though it targets Maui County's Lahania sewage plant, it could have ramifications for wastewater treatment through the state — even the nation — as effluent injection wells are commonly used in the Islands.

I was curious where such wells are on located on Kauai, and county spokeswoman Beth Tokioka helpfully got me this answer:

According to Ed Tschupp, Chief of the  Wastewater Division, three (3) of our County wastewater treatment plants use injection wells: 1) Eleele plant (4 wells) where injection well disposal is our only effluent disposal means; 2) Back-up disposal to irrigation re-use at Līhu‘e plant (7 wells); and 3) Waimea plant (2 wells).

Though I don't know if the same problems are being created by injection wells here, the Maui lawsuit raises several concerns. First, the 3-to-5 million gallons of semi-treated wastewater pumped  into the Lahaina wells each day isn't staying put. University of Hawaii researchers found it's entering the ocean at Kahekili within three months through freshwater seeps. What's more, they were able to track a specific type of nitrogen found in the algae growing on the reef there, and positively identify it as the same type of nitrogen being pumped into the injection wells.

In response to fears that the wastewater could be carrying harmful human pathogens, the EPA is making Maui County treat the wastewater more thoroughly with ultraviolet radiation by 2013. But disinfecting for bacteria and pathogens doesn't address the other chemicals and drugs now found in sewage, nor does it remove the nitrogen, which contributes to invasive algae blooms that can smother a reef.

Sea turtles in Hawaii now feed almost exclusively on that invasive algae, and NOAA ecologist Kyle Van Houtan thinks there is a link between the algae's high nitrogen content and the often fatal turmors that develop in honu. As a National Geographic article describes it:

When turtles eat the seaweed, arginine awakens dormant herpes viruses in the turtles' bodies that generate the tumors.

While we're on the topic of crappy situations, I happened to run across a little blurb in Marine Corps Times about how Hawaii-based Marines and drones are now being used for drug interdiction in Afghanistan. Seems the plan is not to destroy opium poppy fields outright, as that might alienate the farmers, but to go after stored stashes that are supposedly smuggled out prior to the harvest. Why not just pay the farmers to grow something else? 

But there was something kind of fishy in the report of a recent raid:

Earlier this month, Marines used drones to track vehicles after they left a mobile bazaar, [Maj. Gen. David H.] Berger said. The smugglers eventually parked, hid their vehicles and walked nearly a mile away from them to get some sleep. A raid force with Lejeune’s 2nd Battalion, 6th Marines, reached the vehicles at first light and found about 3,000 pounds of cocaine, opium and heroin.

Cocaine? Where did that come from, when coca leaves are grown in South America? As an interesting aside, when I did a bit of checking to see if coca was being grown in Afghanistan — it apparently is not — I discovered that Bolivian growers have developed a Roundup resistant strain of coca in response to the American-backed, multi-billion-dollar eradication effort in Columbia, which relies primarily on aerial applications of Monsanto's toxic herbicide. Except the growers created the resistance through cross-breeding in the fields, rather than through genetic engineering.

Always somebody one step ahead of the game. But no worries. The chemical companies have way stronger stuff than Roundup at the ready. Cause pretty soon farmers are gonna have to be using it in their GMO corn and canola fields, where the weeds have developed a similar resistance to herbicide.

To wrap up the crappy theme, the Senate has confirmed Ted Yamamura to the state Water Commission — one of the most powerful agencies in Hawaii — despite complaints that he does not meet legal requirements for the job. His nomination is yet another example of how Gov. Abercrombie has abandoned his environmental supporters and is clearly on the side of development, full steam ahead. As I recently reported previously in the Honolulu Weekly:

[Native Hawaiian Legal Corp. attorney Alan] Murakami also questioned Yamamura’s impartiality, noting that he supported Alexander and Baldwin’s water diversions on Maui when he was a member of the state Board of Land and Natural Resources.

“If confirmed, he would be regulating the very water diversion he had a direct hand in authorizing without regard for the law protecting streams and Hawaiian water rights,” Murakami said.

It's shaping up to be a nasty and protracted fight over water allocation.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Musings: An Ending

Impossible to miss Venus, glowing like a lantern, strung low over Makaleha, or Mars, directly overhead, a distant ember. The crickets rejoice with their nightly symphony performance, the stream rushes headlong in pursuit of the sea.

In this near silence, this peaceful hum of nature, I hear a ping. It's a text, telling me:

Recently displaced Koloa Camp resident Mrs. Catherine Fernandez was hit by a car at 7 this morning while on her daily walk. A familiar sight in her bright red jacket, the 83-year-old now walks from the low-income housing on the other side of Koloa town, where there's a lot more traffic in the early morning. She suffered a laceration to her elbow that required stitches.

I think of Mrs. Fernandez with her sore elbow, body hurting, heart lonely for the home she'd lived in for the last 57 years, a yard with mango, lychee, pineapple, papaya and banana that she had planted.

I recall that For Kauai ran an article on her, so I go looking and learn that her husband, Cereal, had passed away last September. A retired supervisor, he was the last plantation worker residing in the camp. As Mrs. Fernandez recounts:

“My husband was the last one that Grove Farm was waiting for. Within 29 days after he died they called up and said they wanted to have a meeting with our family so they could discuss the future of the camp.”

By Nov. 8, Grove Farm had issued eviction notices to all the camp residents and agricultural tenants. By April 8, only a few remained, waiting for their day in court, which is April 30th, I believe.

“This is the end of the plantation,” says Catherine. “Why celebrate Koloa Plantation Days when there will be no more plantations?”

I wonder again why Grove Farm, with all its land, had to destroy this little piece of real Kauai, and with it people's lives.

And as the crickets sing, and dogs bark in the distance, I find something craven in a business plan that requires some people to become homeless so that others can get homes.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Musings: Conspiracy Theory

Prosecuting Attorney Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho, whose office was recently recused for conflict in two high profile cases, is now leveling conflict allegations of her own — against the County Council and County Attorney's office.

In an April 12 email sent to county officials, Shay claimed the County Council and County Attorney are conspiring against her to help Deputy County Attorney Justin Kollar win the upcoming prosecutor's race. She also accused the County Attorney's office of  “corruption” and “vindictive actions,” as well as “unprofessionalism, deceit and manipulation.” 

I've published the entire email below, but in it she accuses the Council and County Attorney of “behind the scenes political maneuvering” before going on to say:

It appears that the County Attorney’s Office is using the Council in its quest to pursue a personal attack on the OPA’s successful POHAKU program to obtain political advantage of another DCA, Justin Kollar, who the County Attorney is publicly supporting to run against me in the upcoming Prosecuting Attorney election.

Shay also vowed to seek “the assistance of the FBI, the Attorney General’s Office and the US Attorney’s Office to conduct a comprehensive investigation regarding corruption involving the County Attorney’s Office.” In the meantime, she wants the County Attorney's office to “conflict out," and special counsel hired to represent her office.

She was apparently prompted to fire off the email after seeing the Council Committee of the Whole's agenda for next Wednesday, which includes an executive session on the POHAKU program and her request to apply for technical support from the Bureau of Justice Assistance and the Vera institute of Justice's national Cost-Benefit Knowledge Bank for Criminal Justice, along with “related matters.”

The "related matters" and Shay's on-the-offensive email raise the question: WTF is up with POHAKU — the “restorative justice” criminal diversion program that Shay started last year? 

In the meantime, here's her email in its entirety:

> From: Shaylene Carvalho
> Date: April 12, 2012 7:18:53 PM HST
> To: Jay Furfaro , Bernard Carvalho , Gary Heu
> Cc: Mel Rapozo , Kipukai Kualii , Dickie Chang , Nadine Nakamura , JoAnn Yukimura , Tim Bynum , Jennifer Winn , Alfred Castillo Jr. , Jake Delaplane
> Aloha Council Chair Furfaro,
> It is with great surprise that I see an agenda item for the POHAKU Program related to the VERA grant. I was informed by you yesterday that the VERA grant item was going to be received. I then left the Council meeting, thinking that was the case, as we intended to withdraw our application for the VERA grant because we wanted to have discussions with Deputy County Attorney (DCA) Jennifer Winn. The reason for this discussion was that I received a draft of an opinion from DCA Winn, on Tuesday night, regarding the POHAKU program. I was confused as no one had contacted me regarding any potential problems with the POHAKU program or its relationship to the Vera grant. I posed numerous questions to DCA Winn and have yet to receive any response.
> The Charter provides that the County Attorney’s Office shall be the chief legal advisor and legal representative of all agencies.
> It is shocking to me that a DCA can write an opinion without attempting to communicate with the client she represents to obtain full information. At no time prior to Tuesday night was I contacted to provide me of notice of the reason for the opinion. This exhibits yet another pattern of unprofessionalism, deceit and manipulation. It appears that the County Attorney’s Office is using the Council in its quest to pursue a personal attack on the OPA’s successful POHAKU program to obtain political advantage of another DCA, Justin Kollar, who the County Attorney is publicly supporting to run against me in the upcoming Prosecuting Attorney election. This bias was evident as the County Attorney and the Council Chair agreed that DCA Kollar would be prohibited from representing the OPA in any capacity. Unfortunately, the mere prevention of DCA Kollar from interaction with our office, did not end the political motives of the CA’s office. If OPA was receiving the zealous representation by the CA’s Office that is required under the Charter, wouldn’t the appropriate action be to first contact the OPA instead of going to the Council Chair? Why wouldn’t the County Attorney, as the OPA’s attorney, call to inform the OPA of potential concerns it may have in its operation of the POHAKU program before going to the Council Chair? Doesn’t the Council Chair have an obligation to be fair and objective in posting of agendas with notice to the agency it is discussing information about? If this wasn’t personal, wouldn’t the County Attorney obtain ALL the facts before releasing a premature opinion based on limited facts? To my knowledge, the County Attorney’s Office assists the Mayor, all other departments, and commissions in readily bringing legal issues to their respective bodies, never to the Council. This is the first time that I have heard of this kind of behind-the-scenes political maneuvering with the Council and the County Attorney.
> Many other instances of the County Attorney’s vindictive actions have been revealed to the Council Chair and other members of the Council. These have included, baseless complaints to the Office of Disciplinary Counsel that have been unsubstantiated, meritless complaints to the Board of Examiners to prevent an attorney at OPA from graduating with his class and obtaining his bar license in a timely manner, purposely violating the Civil Service Commission rulings to hamper the operations of the OPA, informing the council of erroneous laws to vote against OPA’s funding bill, lying to a council member that an investigation was pending against that council member to secure a negative vote on bills for OPA, intentionally attempting to bar from participation council members only when their views are supportive of OPA, and continually attempting to trample OPA’s rights to testify at public hearings.
> The above instances make it clear that the CA’s office has consistently and systematically been working against the interests of its client, the OPA. This is a flagrant violation of not only its ethical and legal obligations to OPA, but also the Charter. Given these pervasive issues, I will be seeking the assistance of the FBI, the Attorney General’s Office and the US Attorney’s Office to conduct a comprehensive investigation regarding corruption involving the County Attorney’s Office. Until their investigation is complete, the OPA is requesting that the CA’s Office conflict out of any and all matters relating to the OPA so it can be fairly represented, and the public can be assured that no retaliatory actions are instigated.
> If you need further information or clarification, please do not hesitate to contact me.
> Mahalo,
> Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho
> Kauai Prosecuting Attorney