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By Anthony Sommer
Chapter 5 : Maryanne Kusaka
Mayor Maryanne Kusaka never lacked for style.
Kusaka’s clothes always were carefully tailored, formal and decidedly pastel. Her hair never revealed a single stray strand. She invariably wore a brightly colored scarf on her neck to disguise the loose skin waddle of age on her throat.
Her manners, in public at least, were very courtly. She had a warm smile. She only rarely displayed anger in public. Her rants tended toward scolding rather than verbal assaults.
It was in substance and ethical stature that Kusaka was lacking. The first thing she did after raising her hand and taking the oath of office as mayor was to start selling jewelry out of the mayor’s office.
A retired public school teacher who never held an elected office before becoming mayor, Kusaka learned how to run Kauai County during her years as administrative assistant to Mayor Anthony “Uncle Tony” Kunimura.On Kauai, the administrative assistant is not, as the title would imply on the mainland, a secretary. Kusaka was the unelected deputy mayor and first in line as heir to the throne if Mayor Kunimura was incapacitated.
Kunimura, who ruled Kauai in the early and mid 1980s, easily was the most flamboyant mayor in the island’s history. He didn’t bother very much with obeying the law because, well, who would challenge him?
When Kusaka became mayor in 1994, she commissioned (but didn’t pay for; the taxpayers did that) a bust of Kunimura, who had died by then, and his bronze image holds the place of honor in the center of the courtyard of the county office complex.
“Uncle Tony” ran Kauai in the old style: Reward your friends and punish your enemies.
“Auntie Maryanne,” his protégé, was an apt pupil. She took care of her supporters and loosed the hounds, the county bureaucrats (including the cops), on her detractors. Kusaka was a lifelong Democrat until she ran for mayor. In the 1994 Democratic primary, Jimmy Tehada, a veteran County Council member, defeated the incumbent mayor, JoAnn Yukimura.
It wasn’t that the voters loved Tehada. They were angry at Yukimura.
Kauai’s recovery from 1992’s Hurricane Iniki was slow, largely because of the incompetence of the entrenched county bureaucracy, which Yukimura had inherited.
Yukimura brought in many talented department heads but they could not break through the inertia caused by strong unions and civil service protection. And many of her cabinet members were haoles, mainlanders, and no matter how competent, they were resented by locals, particularly locals who worked for the county.
So, Yukimura took the heat at election time. She took the loss very personally and left Kauai for several years. Later she returned and won election to the County Council.
That meant Tehada, who had knocked her off, was not a particularly popular candidate in the general election. He had been a convenient alternative to Yukimura in the primary. But Tehada was very vulnerable to a well-financed challenger in the general election..
Backed by Kauai businessmen and running as the heir to Tony Kunimura, Kusaka re-registered as a Republican and won the general election.
To run the county and take charge of the recovery from Hurricane Iniki, Kusaka brought in retired Navy Capt. Bob Mullins, the former commander of the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai as her administrative assistant.
The US Navy in general and Bob Mullins in particular had become folk heroes in the aftermath of Iniki. The missile range provided help first and asked for permission later.
After the recovery, Mullins brought stacks of documents to the mayor’s office to be signed. He wanted cover to show they had “requested” the aid he and the Navy provided.
Kusaka covered Mullins and, when he retired and she was elected, she gave him a job.
Mullins had his own political base—the almost exclusively white and exclusively Republican Navy League, a booster club for the Navy—and that helped Kusaka gain entry into her new political party.
Later, she replaced Mullins (who found himself cozy employment with a defense contractor, as do many military officers involved in the testing and evaluation trade).
Kusaka brought in a local CPA, Wally Rezentes, who shortly afterward filed for bankruptcy because of the failure of his own business.
Rezentes’s son, Wally Jr., was hired as the county’s director of finance. Nepotism, the hiring of relatives, is totally accepted practice in Kauai County government.
Led by both Wally Sr. and Wally Jr., Kusaka’s top aides worked to recover the island from the remaining ravages of Hurricane Iniki and, most importantly, to fend off the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Kauai County was somewhat extravagant in billing FEMA for repairing hurricane damage, including upgrading some county facilities from pre-hurricane condition. Wood buildings were replaced with concrete structures. FEMA was not amused.
Meanwhile, Mayor Kusaka went on the road to boost tourism.
Kusaka loved to travel, and she freely spent huge sums of county money to take dancers and singers to travel-agent trade shows all over the world. A genuinely accomplished and talented singer and hula dancer herself, Kusaka performed whenever and wherever she could find a stage.
After 1992’s Hurricane Iniki, the mayor’s travels to promote Kauai arguably helped the recovery of the tourism industry. Already popular with locals, Kusaka’s efforts to attract visitors cemented her image as the poster child of the tourism industry.
In typical Kauai style, locals (including the local newspaper) never questioned how much of their money she was spending on her junkets.
Why weren’t the resort hotels and airlines and tour companies she was promoting picking up her tab? No one on Kauai, especially the press, was even mildly curious.
In 1998, Kusaka declared the tourism industry fully recovered. Also, in 1998, the county spent $5,603 to send Kusaka (the figure doesn’t include her entourage) on marketing trips.
If the tourist industry was fixed, it would be logical to assume the mayor’s sales trips could be reduced in the coming years.
Yet in 1999, Kusaka’s travel budget almost tripled to $13,082. She ranked second (behind Honolulu’s Mayor Jeremy Harris) among Hawaii mayors for travel spending that year. The mayors of Maui County and Hawaii County weren’t even close.
By far her most extravagant trip in 1999 was to the American Society of Travel Agents trade show in Paris. She was Hawaii’s sole representative.
Kauai County has a strict policy that employees traveling at taxpayer expense must fly tourist class. But Kusaka flew first class all the way (her economic planning director Gini Kapali sat back in tourist).
Kusaka, in fact, liked everything first class.
Despite the fact that—after Mullins’ departure—Kusaka’s cabinet lacked any white faces, the mayor had an affinity for wealthy haole investors who were willing to court (and, if widely-believed rumor is correct, gladly pay for) her favor.
Kealia Kai is a subdivision of multi-million-dollar homesbuilt on huge lots along a bluff overlooking the ocean on the windward side of Kauai. It also is a gated community, which is very rare on Kauai. The gates are considered a slap in the face of local people.
The land previously had been part of a sugar plantation. The lots were listed on the tax rolls as agricultural property, meaning the property taxes on the land would be virtually zero for the new gentleman farms.
Justin and Michele Hughes, a California couple who had developed similar projects in Colorado, represented themselves as the developers of Kealia Kai on Kauai’s east shore just north of Kapaa.
It later turned out another part-time Kauai resident and full-time developer, Thomas McCloskey, was the real developer of the property; a fact the Hughes couple purposely avoided mentioning in public filings.
When a reporter stumbled over McCloskey’s name on a document at a state office and called Michele Hughes asking what that was all about, she blurted out: “His name wasn’t supposed to be on anything!”
Michele Hughes and Maryanne Kusaka became best friends.
While a pile of applications involving Kealia Kai still were pending action before the Kauai Planning Commission, Kusaka called a press conference to introduce Michele Hughes and sing the praises of Kealia Kai.
When a reporter pointed out that it might be unethical for a mayor to be shilling for a development awaiting actionby a county regulatory board, Kusaka responded by giving the reporter a dirty look, called “the stink eye” in Hawaii
Kusaka had her own weekly television show on cable television (paid for by the taxpayers) and her sole guest thefollowing week was Michele Hughes.
They were so tight that during one Planning Commission meeting, Wally Rezentes Sr., Kusaka’s top aide, actually wascarrying Michele Hughes’s purse.
The Kauai County Council, Kauai County Planning Commission and the Kauai County Police Commission meetings are televised and the mayor and the mayor’s staff watch them live on closed-circuit television.
Even if the mayor is not in the meeting room, the threat of retaliation is only as far away as the nearest television camera, and the Council members and commission members know it.
Kusaka also provided a fine example of how a Kauai mayor can enlist her police department to benefit her friends.
The beach below Kealia Kai is called Donkey Beach and it had for decades been a gay nude beach. Although nude sunbathing was illegal, that prohibition previously had a very low ranking in the law enforcement scheme of things on Kauai.
Suddenly, Kusaka had the KPD running off the gay nudists on a regular basis to please the developers of Kealia Kai. Mr. and Mrs. Hughes (and, as it later was revealed, Tom McCloskey) didn’t think the sight of naked men was helping their chances of selling a “million-dollar view.”
Similarly, there was a straight nude beach—called Secret Beach, although there are directions to it in every tourist guidebook—right below and in full view of the Hughes’s hillside home in Kilauea.
Suddenly, under orders from the mayor, the KPD was rounding up nude sunbathers there as well.
It was the issue of beach patrols that caused the first major rift between Kusaka and KPD Chief George Freitas. The Hugheses offered to donate all-terrain vehicles to the KPD, but only if Freitas provided KPD officers to drivethem and only if the ATVs were used exclusively to patrol Donkey Beach below Kealia Kai to arrest gay nudists.
Freitas said he would gladly take the donated ATVs, but only if he decided when and where on the island they would be used. He was not willing to provide tax-funded privatesecurity patrols for the Hugheses.
Kusaka was embarrassed and she was angry. It is highly likely that it was at this point she began to plot and scheme to get herself a police chief who would do what she told him to do.
Mayor Maryanne Kusaka headed a full-on witch hunt to get KPD Chief Freitas, trying to convince the Kauai Police Commission to fire Freitas for hindering the prosecution of a KPD officer accused of sexually molesting his step-daughter. In the end, the officer was acquitted, Freitas was found guilty of giving his girlfriend a ride in his police car and yelling at one of his assistant chiefs. He kept his job.
Only after all the state and county permits were issued did McCloskey jump out of the woodpile and announce himself as the actual developer of Kealia Kai. Justin and Michele Hughes were just fronting for him and Michele certainly had done her job winning the mayor’s friendship.
The mayor, quite naturally, immediately began snuggling up to McCloskey as well.
For a long time, rumors abounded that Kusaka had been paid off with a lot at Kealia Kai. There never was anything in the state or county records to indicate that there was any truth to the oft-repeated allegation. But the rumored payoff was and still is widely believed.
Kusaka also was close friend of Jimmy Pflueger, a retired and very wealthy Honolulu Honda dealer turned land developer on Kauai’s north shore. His family had owned land there for more than a century.
Pflueger, often driving the heavy construction equipment himself, was clearing the land and building roads for yet another subdivision for the rich and famous on a bluff overlooking the ocean. In the background are rugged mountains often seen in movies shot on Pflueger’s property.
Pflueger had an “arrangement” with Kusaka that was quite unique. The mayor’s office served as a sort of alarm system for Pflueger.
If anyone called any Kauai County department to complain about Pflueger’s activities and question whether he had permits and was following the law, they got an instant response.
The return call came not from the Planning Department, not from the county engineer, not from the mayor, but from Pflueger himself. Usually within an hour of the original complaint, Pflueger was on the phone with the irate citizen.
Pflueger had made a deal with Kusaka that if any citizen called to complain about any of his pet projects, the complaint would be passed on directly to him by her top aide, Wally Rezentes. Pflueger reckoned, usually correctly, that he could calm them down with his used-car-salesman charm.
The county officials never would investigate the complaints against Pflueger. Kusaka had granted him an informal immunity from county regulation.
That was just fine until Pflueger’s excavation to build a road from the lots where he planned to build luxury homes to Pilaa Beach collapsed in a mudslide during a heavy rain storm. The mud buried a coral reef.
Pflueger ended up paying the largest penalty ever imposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency against an individual: $7.5 million.
He also paid the largest state pollution fine in Hawaii’s history: $4 million.
The Pilaa mudslide was only the beginning. More recently, on May 14, 2006, a dam on Pflueger’s property burst in another rain storm, creating an 18-foot wall of water that hurtled downstream, wiping out 100 feet of the only highway serving the area, knocking two buildings completely off their foundations and killing seven people downstream.
Authorities still are investigating to determine whether Pflueger had covered over the dam’s spillway with dirt, when the spillway was intended as a safety valve to keep the dam from overfilling.
Kauai County, which at Kusaka’s urging gave Pflueger free rein and never inspected his many projects, played a role in both of those disasters by failing to enforce the law. Kusaka’s firm belief that the rules do not apply to her finally went a bit too far in 2001.
Annoyed that the County Council refused to grant her a pay raise, Kusaka used her authority to transfer funds within her own office to give herself a new car.
Kusaka for years had been driving her personal Cadillac on county business and received a $4,000 annual travel allowance.
In 2001, without telling the County Council, she quadrupled her own travel allowance and paid $16,000 in county funds to lease a bright red Chrysler luxury car for the balance of her term. The car was strictly for Kusaka’s use and the lease specified it would be returned at the end of her term and not made available to the next mayor.
The car was leased, without any bidding, from the automobile dealer who had been her campaign chairman in the previous election. “Sole source” purchases are not uncommon in Kauai County, often in violation of state procurement laws and regulations requiring bids on government purchases.
The Kauai County Council, hardly a tower of ethics and virtue itself, learned of the mayor’s new car at a budget briefing.
The Council members had a few years before given the county departments authority to transfer funds with their own agencies without Council approval. In return, each agency, including the mayor’s office, was supposed to provide an annual self-evaluation and set goals for the coming year.
Under Kusaka, the money freely was shuffled within the county offices but the goals never were set and the evaluations never completed.
Council members were so angry that Kusaka misused the new budget powers they granted her that they stripped the mayor of all the discretionary spending power.Ultimately, she turned in the Chrysler and went back to driving her Caddy.
Despite her socializing with wealthy haole developers, Kusaka remained popular with locals. This was partly because she provided them with jobs, but also because she “talked stink” about white people when she believed no one would hear her.
“I used to go to cabinet meetings and I was dumbfounded by the racist statements the mayor would repeatedly make at almost every meeting,” said former Police Chief George Freitas.
The police chief is not appointed by the mayor but by the Police Commission. The police chief was considered a de facto cabinet member and expected to attend department head meetings, largely to be handy when Kusaka wanted to chew him out at cabinet meetings.
Even one of Kusaka’s closest aides, who is white, said the same of her boss.
“When she would go into one of her rants about haoles, I had to wonder what color she thought I was,” said Beth Tokioka, who served as Kusaka’s press secretary and later become Mayor Bryan Baptiste’s economic planning director.
Tokioka is Caucasian and grew up in Flint, Michigan. She was married to a Japanese-American politician Jimmy Tokioka, now a member of the state legislature, whom Kusaka treats as a son. Though now divorced, her ticket into local society and in county politics now is permanently punched.
Tokioka proved doggedly loyal to both Kusaka and later to Mayor Bryan Baptiste. And it showed. Honesty in her relations with the press was not among her virtues.
“I like Beth but she has some serious ethical blind spots,” said Dennis Wilken, a former reporter for The Garden Island, Kauai’s local newspaper.
Bill Dahle, the senior reporter on the island, now retired, once told Tokioka to her face that no reporter on Kauai ever believed a word she said because she was so devoted to Kusaka.
Kusaka often called Beth Tokioka “my soul mate.” Other haoles in the Kusaka Administration, however, were decidedly unwelcome.
A case in point was in 2002 when Kusaka forced Kauai Film Commissioner Judy Drosd to quit after 10 years on the job, during which she played a major role in the filming of all three Jurassic Park movies on the island.
Drosd, a haole, had been hired by the previous mayor, JoAnn Yukimura, a liberal Stanford attorney who brought in quite a few talented administrators from the mainland. Most of the outsiders left when Yukimura was defeated for reelection, but not Drosd.
Drosd was a 20-year veteran of the television and motion picture business and previously had been the vice president in charge of production for HBO.
In terms of Big League talent and savvy and charm, Drosd was by far the class act in Kauai County government.
Judy Drosd, a former top executive with HBO and Kauai’s film commissioner for a decade was forced out by Mayor Maryanne Kusaka and replaced by a commissioner with no background in the film industry.
With millions of dollars for the island’s economy at risk, balancing the needs of demanding film producers, greedy landowners who want huge sums to provide film locations, and egotistic movie stars seeking special treatment is no easy act.
When Drosd left Kauai in 2002, she was immediately hired by newly-elected Gov. Linda Lingle to head the state Arts, Film and Entertainment Division. She kept her home on Kauai and commuted to Honolulu every day.
Drosd’s departure resulted directly from the Kusaka’s very shabby treatment of her. Her departure was a tragedy for the island and film-making on Kauai never really has recovered.
Parroting the mayor, Press Secretary Tokioka took it upon herself to play down the loss of Drosd.
Tokioka said in an interview: The film commissioner was “nothing more than a glorified tour guide.”
She added Drosd “hung around for 10 years only so she would be vested in the county’s retirement system.” From all indications, Drosd, who owned a great deal of property on Kauai, was not in need of a government pension.
Kusaka replaced Drosd with Tiffani Lizama, the marketing director for the Kauai Food Bank who had no experience in the film industry.
Worse, Lizama chose as her show business guru the builder of a recording studio in Kapaa that turned out to be nothing more than a means for scamming investors. He fled the island leaving a large number of angry investors in his wake.
The important point to Kusaka was that Lizama, though a haole, was married to a local Kauai Fire Department captain who was one of the mayor’s pets. Again, marriage to a local is a haole’s ticket into the club.
Kusaka’s dislike of whites and especially whites who opposed her in public was put on full public display in 2002.
There is a gaggle of activists who show up at every Kauai County Council meeting to complain, usually quite correctly, how inept and unethical most county agencies are. They call themselves the “nit-pickers,” a tag intended to be derogatory that was pinned on them by the editor of the local paper. They wear it as a badge of honor.
All are haoles. Locals would never speak out against the government.
County Council meetings were given live gavel-to-gavel coverage (except, of course, for the many executive sessions) on Hoike, the public access cable television network.
In addition to the Council meetings, Kauai County paid Hoike $40,000 a year to provide a video crew and transmit the mayor’s weekly television show, which was nothing but a propaganda opportunity and was scripted by Beth Tokioka.
(Kusaka also did a weekly radio “interview” with a Kauai “newsman” on a local radio station. Both the questions and Kusaka’s answers were written by Beth Tokioka.)
The line between Kusaka and the activist community was drawn during her first term.
A decades-old dispute between north shore residents reached the boiling point in 1997 and 1998.
Tour boat companies were hauling thousands of visitors every day on sight-seeing trips along the spectacular Na Pali Coast.
The tour boats ran out of Hanalei on Kauai’s north shore, technically a harbor but not nearly large enough to accommodate the huge number of tour boats and tourist vehicles running in and out of what is, arguably, the most beautiful bay in the world.
Kusaka lined up with the boat operators, part of her beloved tourism industry.
That put her on the opposite side from the environmental activists, an unlikely coalition of white North Shore environmentalists and pro-sovereignty Native Hawaiians who claimed the boats were destroying the bay, the river and the town. They wanted the tour boats out of Hanalei Bay.
The issue was so contentious that one joint state and county public hearing droned on for 18 hours of passionate speech-making from representatives of both sides, televised on Hoike, of course..
It finally was decided in 1998 by Gov. Ben Cayetano, whose speech-writer was—not coincidentally—a haole environmentalist from Kauai.
Cayetano was, at the time, in a desperate fight for a second term against former Maui Mayor Linda Lingle. Cayetano was a Democrat and needed the liberal north shore Kauai vote. Lingle and Kusaka were Republicans.
Cayetano simply pulled the plug on the tour boats and Kusaka.
He ordered them out of Hanalei and forced them to move to Port Allen on Kauai’s west side, a long haul from the Na Pali. Cayetano won (Lingle would come back four years later and take the governor’s office). The activists cheered. Kusaka seethed.
The payback came in 2002 when Kusaka pulled a plug of her own on the activists, knocking them off of island-wide television.
It’s also likely Kusaka had not forgotten the County Council had taken away her new car the year before. The Council members, every bit as much as the activists, basked in the free notoriety they received from the weekly meeting television broadcasts.
Taking away the free publicity medium favored by both the Council and the activists may well have crossed the vindictive mayor’s mind.
The activists had long ago figured out that the televised Council meetings gave them a perfect platform from which to hammer county government. It was watched by a huge audience, and, best of all, it was free.
All they had to do was stand up and speak.
Kusaka was fed up with the haole activists and their constant carping about her administration. It was time for getting even. “Punish your enemies” is a part of Rule #1 for Kauai politicians.
So, Kusaka shut down the live Hoike telecasts of the Council meetings (but not, of course, her own weekly show). One fine day in the spring of 2002, Kusaka decreed that airing the Council meetings without closed captioning for the hearing-impaired was a violation of federal law.
Kusaka said that her ever-vigilant County Attorney’s Office had decided showing the meetings without closed captioning for the hearing impaired was not allowed by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
As a result, Council meetings (including the activist antics that infuriated Kusaka) weren’t shown until they could be transcribed and captioning provided. That took about a week, which meant they aired after the next weekly Council meeting. They were always at least a week behind.
As a source of information for the public and a stage for the activists, the televised meetings had become useless. No one was watching.
The odd thing was that there was no record of any complaints from anyone of an ADA violation.
Not from the deaf community on Kauai. Not from the agencies enforcing the ADA: The State Disability and Communications Access Board, the U.S. Justice Department, or even the county’s own ADA coordinator.
And Kusaka was not particularly a champion of the disabled.
According to some of those who were present, at one cabinet meeting Kusaka went into a tirade about the ADA and how much it was costing Kauai County to provide facilities for the disabled.
Her tantrum was so vicious that her loyal press secretary, Beth Tokioka, left the meeting in tears. Tokioka has a son who is deaf.
Another very strange thing was the Mayor’s Office (actually Tokioka) administered the county’s contract with Hoike to air the County Council meetings. In all the other counties, it was the county clerk, who works for the County Council rather than the mayor, who handled the television contracts.
Initially, Hoike, a private non-profit agency, refused to shut down the live broadcasts. It announced it would still show them live and then show the meetings with subtitles if and when they became available.
Tokioka told Hoike that the county (meaning the mayor’s office) owns and controls the use of all the tapes of County Council meetings.
Tokioka, as she often did, was blowing smoke. The contract did not say the county owns the tapes.
Tokioka continued to lie when she said the mayor’s actions shutting down the broadcast were the result of a demand from the State Disability and Communications Access Board.
What really happened was Kauai County asked the state agency whether closed-captioning was required on broadcasts of all government meetings. Kauai County was the one that brought up the topic.
The state responded, in writing, that there was no such requirement for closed captioning broadcasts of government meetings.
Generally, the state Disabilities Board told Kauai County officials, it supported Kusaka’s move to require subtitles. But no law requires closed captioning, their letter clearly stated.
Then the Alice-in Wonderland character of Kauai County government kicked in: Reality is what Kauai County says it is, not what the law states.
When all else fails, the Kauai County Attorney’s Office states that whatever the mayor does is legal, whether it actually is or not.
Once again, no one had the funding to fight the county in court. So Tokioka said the call had been made by the county attorney.
Actually, Olelo, the public access cable channel in Honolulu and thus the biggest in Hawaii, did not provide closed captioning of government meetings. And no government agency or individual complained.
The rest of Hawaii recognized there would be a conflict of the “separation of powers” doctrine if the executive branch had control of the legislative branch’s television contracts.
Constitutional niceties such as “separation of powers” rarely, if ever, occur to anyone in Kauai government, or at least in the Mayor’s Office.
Kusaka blurted out her real motive for yanking the meetings from television on her weekly radio interview when she decided to depart from Tokioka’s prepared script and ad-lib.
In one especially candid moment, Tokioka once told a reporter: “I write the scripts but I usually have no idea what’s going to come out of her mouth.”
One of the noisiest activists, Andy Parks, brought a tape of Kusaka’s broadcast outburst to play for the County Council in June 2002.
First, he pointed out, correctly, that there is no legal requirement to delay broadcasts of the Council meetings until closed captioning can be added.
“It does not exist. It’s not true. It’s a lie,” Parks told the Council.
Then he pushed the “play” button on his tape recorder and there was the mayor’s voice:
“All the garbage that goes on at the Council meetings—it’s such a waste of money paying for it. We allow everybody, and they come to have free rein out there,” Kusaka insisted. Kusaka clearly indicated she would do anything to stop “wasting money” on televising Council meetings because “my critics” were using the meetings as a public forum.
Eventually, the Hoike mess was sorted out. The county contracted with a court-reporting service to provide realtime captioning and the Council meetings were back to being shown live.
The resolution was not the result of a sudden thaw in the frosty relationship between the mayor and the activists (or the mayor and the hearing impaired).
The fact is, 2002 was an election year for the Council. As a means of gaining taxpayer-funded campaign publicity, the incumbents wanted the free air time the televised session gave them, With the long delay waiting for captioning, no one was watching them on TV.
And, as the mayor’s radio broadcast revealed, it wasn’t about deaf people at all.
It was about those haoles who criticized her on islandwide television every week.
Forty years after the enactment of the Civil Rights Act, it’s hard for people from the mainland United States—even people in other parts of Hawaii—to realize that, on Kauai at least, it’s always all about race.
But it is.
The problem is even more acute in the KPD.
When George Freitas became chief in 1995, he didn’t exactly inherit a well-oiled, racially diverse law enforcement machine from former Chief Cal Fujita, who retired under fire.
Far from it.
Fujita’s racist hiring practices led to a discrimination lawsuit that eventually cost county taxpayers a bundle and Fujita his job.
Freitas was hired to clean up the mess Fujita had made. Freitas was given a mandate by the Police Commission (again, the majority appointed by the liberal but by then deposed Mayor Yukimura) to attain and maintain a high standard of diversity within the KPD.
Freitas was the only white member of the department above the rank of sergeant (Freitas is Portuguese, which is considered “local” in Hawaii even if the US Department of Labor counts him as a Caucasian).
But in the Kauai scheme of ethnicity, Freitas, even though born and raised on Oahu, still was an outsider, a haole. Freitas had spent his entire career as a police officer and administrator in Richmond, a very rough suburb of Oakland, Calif. He didn’t speak Pidgin and he didn’t share the racial prejudices of most KPD’s middle management who had ascended under Fujita’s regime.
When Freitas became chief, only two KPD officers were Chinese and only five were women.
KPD officers traditionally were males who had either Japanese or mixed Hawaiian blood.
The KPD has had only one African-American officer in the department’s history. And he quit and went to work for the Kauai Fire Department after a very short time.
“There’s nothing wrong with the racial mix. We’ve got a great bunch of cops,” said longtime Police Commission Chairwoman Dede Wilhelm in a 2001 interview.
Wilhelm said she went to Kauai’s high schools to talk up a police career for young women, “but the wahine don’t sign up. It’s not glamorous enough.”
As for KPD having only two Chinese-American officers, she said: “The Chinese are smart. They go study medicine.” During Kusaka’s eight years in office, the word “diversity” never came up. To the contrary, her press secretary, Tokioka, insisted: “It’s the mayor’s job to find government jobs for Kauai residents.”
A few months after she had left office, it was revealed that Kusaka (or “Queen Maryanne” as all of the County Council members called her, but not to her face) had purposely ignored a new state law aimed at filling a desperate need by all police departments throughout Hawaii for new recruits.
The statute went into effect in July 2002. For the first time, police departments in Hawaii were allowed to recruit on the mainland. It gave the mayor of every county the power to waive the one-year Hawaii residency requirement for police recruits.
Not only did the mayor of Kauai refuse to use the law, she ordered the County Attorney’s Office not to mention it to the Kauai Police Commission.
“As far as I know, there is still a one-year residency requirement,” Stanton Pa, then Police Commission Chairman, said seven months after the law went into effect.
Told about the change, he shook his head and sighed, “It’s news to me.”
Freitas said that despite the fact the KPD had more vacancies than at any time in its entire history—20 of 140 positions went unfilled in 2002—Kusaka repeatedly refused to recruit on the mainland.
In fact, Freitas said, Kusaka refused to recruit outside Kauai.
Freitas said Kusaka screened all of the police applications and interviewed each candidate herself. “She scrutinized every officer we hired,” Freitas said.
One of the curious by-products of KPD and Kusaka racism was in the department’s choice of targets at the police pistol range. They certainly didn’t go unnoticed by haole activists.
The KPD pistol range used large poster-size photographs of rough looking and heavily armed individuals as targets for the cops to practice their pistol marksmanship.
Every one of the posters was a blown-up photo of a Caucasian. Not one of the police targets showed a picture of any Asian or Pacific Islander criminals or, for that matter, anyone of color.
Kusaka finally ran up against term limits (two four-year terms) and had to step down. When she tried to extend her political career, she failed.
In 2004, Kusaka ran for state senate and was soundly defeated by Gary Hooser, a former member of the Kauai County Council, a vocal critic of Kusaka’s (Hooser was the one who pointed out her lease of a luxury car)
Despite Kusaka’s rather shaky ethical record, the election wasn’t about ethics because Hooser’s were as bad as Kusaka’s.
It was revealed during the campaign that Hooser had neglected to pay state withholding and excise taxes he collected from his employees at his magazine publishing company over an 11 year period.
Eventually, the state forced Hooser to repay the $89,875 in taxes but in a deal Hooser cut with the tax collectors, they dropped any penalty or interest, which totaled another $50,440.
The Kauai voters forgave Hooser for cheating the state (and them) out of the penalties and interest.
Hooser was elected. Kusaka was defeated.
Clearly, Kusaka had worn out her welcome with the voters.