(PNN) In a move by new Chair Mel Rapozo that removes the rights of councilmember to introduce legislation, move bills out of committee to a final vote by the full council, initiate workshops and even cuts the amount of time allotted for them to speak on measures on the agenda by half, the new Kaua`i County Council majority rammed through wholesale changes to longstanding rules at Monday's usually inaugural meeting of the Kaua`i County Council.
The rights of the public were also severely curtailed by cutting the mandatory length for public testimony in half, removing the right to petition the council, severely restricting exchanges between councilmembers and testifiers and forcing the public to one again wait for hours to testify.
The County Charter requires adoption of the rules at the usually pro-forma first meeting which turned into a protracted, almost four hour long losing battle to protect the rights of councilmembers and the public after Rapozo attempted to sneak new rules past due consideration by the council by circulating them unformatted, without using the standard "Ramseyer" format that shows changes to legislation. That way a quick glance made those reading them think there were no changes at all.
A PNN article on Saturday which detailed a small handful of the proposed changes apparently alarmed Councilmember Gary Hooser who then "shared" the article on Facebook. That spurred an email from Rapozo sent only to those who had contacted him after seeing the article, attempting unsuccessfully to play down and in fact misrepresent the changes. That email itself was followed by a detailed point-by-point Facebook post refuting Rapozo's email from Hooser who was outraged over the not just the rules themselves but the attempt to dupe the council into adopting changes.
Among the changes is one previously unreported provision that would allow committees and their chairs to prevent the full council from taking a final vote on a bill or resolution by holding the bill in committee permanently, thus killing it.
While giving chairs this kind of power is common at the federal and state level it is rarely part of the rules for local jurisdictions. Kaua`i is the first county in Hawai`i to pass a rule like this, although Hawai`i Island briefly considered and quickly rejected a similar measure this week after their chair attempted a similar secret maneuver.
According to Roberts Rules of Order which governs parliamentary procedure, only the full body can determine the ultimate fate of any measure with a majority or more (depending on the type of measure) of the full body carrying the outcome. But under the Rule-a-la-Rapozo a "receipt for the record" or in fact any vote other than approval by a five-voting-member committee of the seven member council would cause the measure to remain in committee until the chair allows it to come up again- conceivably not at all. That would allow three votes- or even less depending on how many are in attendance for the vote- to essentially kill a bill or resolution.
The new rules also:
-Cut the time the public is given by law to testify on an agenda item from a total of six to three minutes. It would leave granting a second three minutes to the discretion of the chair, replacing the old four additional minutes under the chair's purview. It's interesting to note that when the matter came up for discussion Councilmember Kipukai Kuali`i showed how even he- a member of the new majority who was the most vocal about how it was "disrespectful" to challenge the new rules- insisted this was not true, personally attacking Hooser over his contention that it was. It took an insistence from Hooser that the record reflect the truth for Kuali`i- obviously worried enough about how his performance would look to the electorate to later apologize and claim he was not attacking Hooser personally- to acknowledge his error demonstrating definitively that he hadn't understood or possibly even read one of the most glaring changes. The "total of six minutes" rule had been in effect on Kaua`i for decades;
-Removed the right of councilmember to have proposed legislation- or any matter- placed on the council agenda within 120 days of submittal. This provision was added a couple of years back after Rapozo's stated "mentor," former Chair Kaipo Asing, abused the requirement requiring the council chair to "initial" matters in order for them to appear on the agenda. to block legislation he disfavored from ever appearing on the agenda;
-Eliminate the right of members to hold "workshops" unless the matter is on the council agenda. Workshops are used to gather facts, input from experts. members of the administration and the community to contribute to the preparation of legislation without violating the state Sunshine Law which requires six-day notice and public testimony whenever a majority of the council gathers to deal with actual or projected council business;
-Cut from 10 to five minutes the time councilmembers may speak on an agenda item without permission from the chair;
-Eliminated the right of citizens to petition the council to consider legislation;
-Eliminated a recent rule change that had allowed members of the public to testify on any single agenda item for three minutes at the very beginning of a meeting rather than having to sit around all day- sometimes into the night- in order to testify, thus forcing them to, once again, take a full day off to speak their mind rather than just an hour or so at 9 a.m.
Rapozo claimed many of the substantive changes were merely "housekeeping" measures and that all were done with intent of "expediency (and) efficiency" and as "cost saving" measures, even suggesting much of the council's proceeding- apparently including public and council input- were "a waste of time (and) money" presenting an unsubstantiated a figure of $250 an hour to record, caption and web-cast meetings.
For the record, at one point during the meeting Rapozo personally chided PNN Publisher, Editor and Chief Correspondent Andy Parx by name over what he thought he had read in PNN's first (Saturday 11/29) article on the rules. Rapozo mockingly claimed that Parx wrote that a rule regarding "intemperate" or "abusive" language was new. However a critical-reading of the paragraph shows that the reference to "new" was made regarding the section on "Public Testimony" in which the passage is contained, not the passage itself. PNN welcomes a retraction and apology from Rapozo considering how adverse he is to litigation.
The meeting began with a... ah screw this "news" format- the rest calls for a lot less "just the facts ma’am" and a lot more Rabid Reporter bombast.
The power grab by "King Louis-Mel "I am the County" XIV, The "Blotting out the Sun(shine) King" started with a "hurry up and just pass the damn rules" push during the usually pre-fake-swearing-in snooze-fest where the gaggle of governance takes the actual oath of office while the audience swears a different kind of under-their-breath-oath. That is usually punctuated by selection of the new chair, vice chair, clerk and deputy and finally pretty much the same old rules as the last term are adopted. At least that's been the case for the at least the last 25-plus years with any substantive rule changes taking place at regular meetings throughout the term.
As the clocked ticked down to the official unofficial hour assigned to re-perform the swearing-in ceremonially in the auditorium next door approached, the new council majority became panicked when it became apparent that the minority were not happy about the elimination of their and the public's rights as Councilmember JoAnn Yukimura announced she had prepared nine amendments for the most egregious of the measures to consolidate MachiaMelli's powers.
" Hurry... only a few minutes to go" shouted dumber-than-the-usual-bear Ross "Boo-Boo" Kagawa to Yogi the Chair as the clock ticked down. "Let's just pass them and be done with it" said perennial also ran, first-time-actually-elected Rapozo-sycophant Kipukai Kuali`i who seemed outraged-to-tears (if that's possible) that someone would challenge the rights of Il Douche-A, to run roughshod over the minority.
It was only when, with mere minutes to go, Yukimura shouted "Move to amend" and a split-second later Hooser said "second" that the lap-dancer-fondling chair thought better of not recognizing the motion at the almost-didn't-happen delayed-on-line-streaming of the event and they all proceeded next door for the banal fake-coronation and insipid oratories from Hizzonah and Ghengis Mel, saving the fireworks for after the show.
Despite the opposition from the majority- which includes a long-sought seat for big Kaua`i landowner Grove Farm in the form of Silver-Spoon-Fed legacy "Missing-D," Arryl Kaneshiro (whose election, many say, was due to confusion with his father, long-serving ex-Councilmember, Darryl)- Yukimura charged on with her amendments with "seconds" from Hooser and loose support from the other member of the progressive minority Mason Chock who, with Yukimura, voted for the final rules with only Hooser voting in opposition.
The worst of the worst of the really offensive "how dare you challenge The Prince" rhetoric came from Kuali`i who had gotten the votes of many progressives in the last election despite his demonstrated support for the Rapozo, Asing and former councilmember and disgraced former County Prosecutor Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho.
Iseri and Kuali`i were accused of colluding to throw Victim-Witness Program monies to Kualii's employer, the YWCA, with Iseri firing the V-V program employees she had just hired (causing a wrongful termination EEOC filing which the county settled) in the prosecutors office... where the program had always been housed since its inception.
This, say council-watchers guaranteed Kualii's allegiance to the Iseri/Rapozo alliance during the often bitter battles over Asing's secretive and paternalistic reign as Chair after having served nobly for years as the champion of the people in the '80's '90's and early '00's.
Of the nine amendments only one passed and that with an amendment to the amendment. But that was was perhaps the most perplexing of all because the "new" rule was the same as the old rule housed in that previously mentioned section on Public Hearings.
The council rules certainly did need some actual housekeeping measures including use of archaic language, anachronistic provisions and misogynist phrasings. But one of the most glaring had always been that there was no section regarding the rules for Public Testimony. Those rules had always been housed under "Public Hearings" which are required by charter but separate from common public testimony which is required on every agenda item at every meeting by the Hawai`i State Sunshine (open meetings) Law. The Public Hearing rules have always been treated as applying to both.
Apparently when staff pointed this out to Benito Rapozo he decided to use the opportunity to make the council train run on time.
The one and only provision that differed was that during actual Public Hearings, the council has been restricted from asking questions and having exchanges with those testifying. It had always been pretty strictly adhered to until recently when, although former Chair Jay Furfaro would often remind councilmembers of the rule, he in fact was a little lackadaisical about enforcing it.
Yet here was an amendment from Yukimura apparently seeking to allow it that during Public Hearings. Now it should be pointed out that at this juncture that although the council appeared to be working from, if not a formal Ramseyer copy of the new rules at least one that indicated changes, still neither has not been made available to the public.
And as a matter of fact one of those "housekeeping" rules made it even harder to know what the heck is going on at meetings by allowing the chair to dispense with the actual verbal reading of measures. We've tried for years to get them to read actual amendments when they're introduced- or at least before they are passed- to no avail.
Parenthetically, as a matter of fact- and we should have anticipated this- council service is traditionally about as fast as a molasses-surfing turtle when it comes to getting things posted on the county web site. Yet the new rules were posted so fast it made our head do an Exorcist and now the old rules are apparently lost to the ages.
Not so parenthetically, in some ways we were sympathetic to the impetus (if not the lack of thought) behind a few of what can only be called the new"Yukimura Rules."
There isn't one person we know who hasn't rolled their eyes and even walked out of the room asking those remaining to "let me know when she's done" after sitting through one of her interminable "thinking out loud" sessions, usually during Q&A with someone testifying. The smirks when councilmembers made veiled references to it during the debate were not as veiled as the references themselves.
So back to the actual amendment that apparently amended nothing, Yukimura's amendment seemed to seek to allow exchanges during Pubic Hearings. That would have been a change from what we remember the old rules said:
"Public hearings are held to receive testimony from the public. Councilmembers shall reserve their opinions, questions, and arguments for the appropriate Council or Committee meeting."
So after much wrangling and Yukimura's pleas that members be able to "clarify" what those speaking at Public Hearings were saying, the following was added:
";except that Councilmembers may ask clarifying questions that enable the Council to better understand the point or position of the speaker."
And THAT passed unanimously. Big whoop. It's probably the one change we would have opposed.
The afternoon session session began with His Melness attempting to run down the list of changes, often mumbling "housekeeping changes made by staff"- until it turned out they weren't- or otherwise glossing over or misrepresenting them. Then Yukimura's amendments rejected at breakneck speed, with the the Greek Chorus responding to Sophoclapozo's "I wont abuse my power" with a refrain of "No he won't abuse his power" followed by some HMS Pinafore-like
Hardly ever sick at Council meetings? We suspect that for the next two year the response will be "yes always."