It seems there's an issue the entire County Council, and even an anti-GMO activist can agree on: Kauai kids should not have their school lunches dumped because they don't have money in their accounts.
Councilman Mel Rapozo, who introduced the resolution calling on the Department of Education to change its practices, read a number of accounts at yesterday's Council meeting about children who had their lunches snatched away and dumped because their meal accounts were in the red.
Aside from the sheer stupidity and vindictiveness of that policy, I couldn't help but think of how shamed and humiliated the kids must have felt. Perhaps DOE administrators and lunch room monitors should be required to take the same anti-bullying workshops offered to their students. As the old saying goes, shit rolls downhill....
The subsequent Council discussion had all the members thanking Mel – top primary vote getter and the next Chair-apparent — for bringing up the issue so that they, too, could show their deep concern for Kauai kids.
The discussion also touched obliquely on whether the Council was overstepping its kuleana by wading into a state matter. The same question has been widely debated in regard to the Council's decision to pass Bill 2491, which was overturned on the grounds that county laws are pre-empted by state laws when it comes to regulating pesticides and GMOs.
Councilman Mason Chock, who was brought on board specifically — and through a process of questionable legality — to override the mayor's veto of 2491, was quick to weigh in:
Our public servants need to be empowered enough to, when they see something happen, like lunches being thrown away and students being shamed or feeling emotion and distress because of it, especially when they have health issues, that they should be willing and able to step up and say something about it. And I’m not just talking about at the DOE, I’m talking about everywhere in our communities.
Councilman Gary Hooser, who introduced 2491, was right behind, justifying the rationale for his failed ordinance:
… It is our kuleana. This is where citizens can get up close and personal with their government. You can say it's a state issue, a federal issue, a county issue, but at the end of the day it's a community issue. We should speak out loudly when the community brings it to our attention, whether it's [through] a resolution, an ordinance or speaking out.”
Yes, it's extremely important that citizens can approach their most localized form of government, which in this case is the County Council. But there's a big difference between approving a resolution that formalizes the Council's position and passing a law that attempts to take over the school lunch program. And there's an even bigger difference between responding to citizens' concerns and instilling fear to provoke citizen concerns.
Which may help to explain why Mel came in thousands of votes ahead of Gary in the primary, and Mason didn't even finish in the top seven.
In other action yesterday, Judge Kathleen Watanabe denied a motion by Hanalei boatyard owner Mike Sheehan to recuse herself in his lawsuit against Public Utilities Commission Chair Mina Morita and her husband, Lance Laney.
Gee, I think defeated county Prosecutor Shaylene Iseri was the last person to bust that move, and she met with a similar fate. Is that a whiff of desperation in the air? Interesting, that Sheehan also employs Shay's lawyer, Richard Wilson.
Wilson unsuccessfully argued that Watanabe had a conflict because she was county attorney when Sheehan sued the county for trying to shut down his unpermitted boatyard. In the resurrection of a 20-year-old grudge, Sheehan claimed he had questioned her ethics way back then, contending she had “defamed him.” Hmm. Sounds like a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black, even when it's done, according to the motion, “with the utmost respect for the Court.”
Sheehan supposedly had forgotten all about it, according to his motion, until he was “recently reminded” of the lawsuit. That's what happens you're sue-happy. It's hard to keep track of all the people you've sued or are suing.
Wilson also apparently forgot that he himself had said, back in February 2011, that he would not be seeking Watanabe's recusal from then-pending court proceedings because “the fact that Watanabe was the County Attorney for a period of time in the mid-1990s does not merit recusal.”
The judge did grant the county's motion to be dismissed from Sheehan's lawsuit. Attorneys for the county and the Laneys argued that the state, not the county, has jurisdiction over the conservation district where Lance and Mina live.
Sheehan turned in Lance and Mina for running an unpermitted vacation rental in a payback for Mina's role in halting tour boats in Hanalei River 16 years ago. Though his complaint was made in 2008, the state DLNR didn't move to enforce until this year, when Gov. Abercrombie was looking to dump Mina as PUC chair because she wouldn't go along with his busness-friendly program.
Lance and Mina were fined $31,000 and ordered to tear down the structures — even as other unpermitted TVRs in the conservation district continue to openly operate.
Sheehan went on to file a civil suit claiming the couple had polluted Hanalei River and altered its flow, then conspired with the county to cover it up. Lance and Mina have filed a motion to dismiss, which is scheduled for a hearing on Oct. 1.
In reflecting on Sheehan's two defeats in the courtroom yesterday, I recalled how Gary, earlier that day, had bemoaned the income disparity on this island — a disparity that Gary and some of his campaign supporters have helped to perpetuate through their real estate practices — even though Gary bizarrely blamed the state.
And I thought, gee, if Mike had spent even a portion of his legal fees on school lunches for the needy, Kauai would be a much better place.
But as Mel noted, it's never a question of money, it's a question of priorities.