The county Finance Department has launched an investigation into possible procurement violations by Kauai Prosecutor Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho and her POHAKU program.
That revelation — and the promise of a report by June 6 or 13 — prompted County Council members to defer Vice Chair JoAnn Yukimura's request to ask the Board of Ethics to conduct its own inquiry into an issue that has been festering since mid-April.
Council Chair Jay Furfaro advocated for the deferral, saying “it is important that the Council has as much information as they possibly can. There is an investigation on particular points that are very close to being present[ed] in a summary from the County Attorney. We should be getting information relatively soon.”
His view was echoed by Councilwoman Nadine Nakamura, who said the issues JoAnn had raised are important and need to be addressed. “Once we get the report …. we can then determine what more needs to be done.”
But as JoAnn pointed out, there's no indication the Administration's investigation will encompass possible violations of the county's Code of Ethics.
Under the Charter, ethics violations could result in a person being fined, suspended or even removed from office.
“I am not asking the Council to resolve the issues, but just to refer them to the Ethics Board,” JoAnn said, noting that they had all sworn to uphold the Charter and it was their duty to report possible ethics violations to the Board for determination. “I think it's important for the Council to stand for high standards of ethics and performance.”
Councilman Mel Rapozo objected. “We have reached for the highest standards. We have in fact taken this to the highest standard I have ever seen in my career on this County Council,” he said, before disclosing that an investigation was underway. “I'm not sure what the motivation for this is.”
Mel said the Council had taken its response "to a higher standard than any situation where we've had potential ethics violations and even some potential criminal allegations in the county. We've done our due diligence by forwarding it to the proper authorities. I'm hoping we can put this matter to rest. If individual council members want to pursue this on a separate track, feel free to do so.”
While saying she was not opposed to a deferral, JoAnn noted, “I'm not sure the ethics charges have been brought before the proper body and I think it would be appropriate for us to do so.”
She then read a statement from Councilman Tim Bynum, who was absent because his daughter was having a baby. In it, Tim complained about the Council repeatedly deferring discussions on the POHAKU issue, before noting that Shaylene “has refused to answer questions from the Council related to the Pohaku program until the County provides her special Counsel for legal representation."
"As of yet no one is looking into the possible Charter violations," Tim's statement continued. "I have been told by all the County Attorneys that have held the office since I became a Council member that when a question regarding a potential violation of the Charter is raised the Council has a duty to see that an appropriate inquiry is held. The Board of Ethics is an appropriate body for such an inquiry. So I will obviously support this motion.”
Nadine took issue with Tim's reference to Council delays, saying discussion was deferred the first time because the POHAKU program hadn't been placed on an agenda with proper public notice and there was "a threat of an Office of Information Practices violation."
That statement prompted Tim to send me an email today noting, “I have always found it ironic (and disturbing) that the Sunshine law is used to keep Sunshine from occurring.”
Mel also attempted to correct Tim's assertion that Shay had refused to answer questions. “In fact, it was the County Attorney's office that advised us not to ask or discuss any questions related to POHAKU. So that's the reason for us not asking and not getting any responses.”
However, as I previously reported in covering the Council meeting Mel referenced, Shay had ended her budget presentation with a diatribe in which she accused the County Attorney's office of continually working against the interests of her office, repeated conflicts of interest and “constant attacks.” She then said she wanted money to hire special counsel for her office.
It was because of that outburst that County Attorney Al Castillo recommended the Council sidestep POHAKU questions in order to protect Shay's rights.
JoAnn used Mel's comment as an opportunity to drive home a point that both she and Tim have repeatedly made: “It is unbelievable that the prosecutor is asking for special counsel on this program. She's using that as a shield to not answer questions that are totally legitimate about a budget issue and a program.”
But Jay cut off further dialogue at that point, saying that some on the Council wanted to wait for more information before taking further action or having more discussion.
It's unclear whether the public will be privy to the results of the procurement investigation, or whether the Council will end up supporting JoAnn's call for an ethics inquiry. Of course, she and Tim can always make such a request on their own. But by bringing it before the Council, she's making her colleagues take a public stand.