Monday, January 19, 2009

COUNCIL: TRUST US; PUBLIC: WHY WOULD WE?

COUNCIL: TRUST US; PUBLIC: WHY WOULD WE?: In a stinging rebuke to the pleas of the community the Kaua`i County Council unanimously abandoned the campaign promises of most and closed its doors to discuss public policy and future legislation regarding the newly adopted charter amendments in executive session.(ES)

At their Wednesday meeting last week each member asked to public to “trust us” to discuss only what they called “potential lawsuits” resulting from as yet un-discussed and un-drafted legislation to implement what has come to be known as the “Citizen’s General Plan Charter Amendment” passed last fall.

As PNN noted a week ago Friday, the state Sunshine Law strictly prohibits the discussion of public policy in meetings closed to the public and none of the councilpersons offered any explanation as to why this wouldn’t apply to all discussions of pending or contemplated legislation.

All of those who testified were almost livid at the council. Bruce Peas, whose unsuccessful run for council last year was centered around open and good governance, noted how the three new council members had joined him on an open government platform.

“This was done before and left a bad taste in people’s mouth” he said of closed meetings to hide politically sensitive, public policy matters under the guise of a “potential” for lawsuits.

Rich Hoeppner who helped organize the petition effort to put the measure on the ballot- a measure that ties tourism development to the county’s general plan by forcing the council to either give the plan “teeth” or issue zoning permits by themselves- was most blunt in his opposition to the ES.

“If there’s no actual litigation there’s no justification. Future litigation is not grounds for going into executive session now” he told councilmembers adding that “a vote against an ES would be a vote to gain the respect of the public”..

Another former council candidate Scott Mijares said he agreed with Hoeppner and Pleas asking that in crafting an ordinance the discussion be conducted “in an open forum and see what the public wants”.

Council watchdog and open governance stalwart Glenn Mickens attacked the fact that there was no specific reason for the public policy discussion to exclude the public and wondered aloud why the council was always “trying to circumvent the will of the public”.

“The public deserves to hear the rationale for an executive session” he said.

Another candidate who ran on an open government platform, Ken Taylor said he was “really saddened” and called the move to hide public policy “the first time it is on the agenda.... totally disrespectful of the community”

He called for an “open dialogue on the issue” and asked ”if issues come up that call for (an ES) then so be it. But have the dialogue in public.”

Then the council tried to grill the deputy county attorney of the week, Darren Suzuki, as to the legality of going into ES but Suzuki refused to okay it or for that matter reject it saying “it’s up to you” and pointing out how it was a political decision

No matter what and which way the council asked Suzuki about whether it was legal to go into ES, Suzuki repeated the mantra of “the agenda posting is correct. If you want more information, put it in writing” and then his office will respond with an opinion.

Councilmembers, then started to bring up some the problems of implementing the charter amendment, beginning with Jay Furfaro who spoke of many of the implementation problems PNN documented last year.

But that’s where council discussion began and ended when Chair Kaipo Asing shut the discussion down in an attempt to keep it behind closed doors.

In a second round of public testimony Taylor called the discussion Asing shut down “the exact kind of dialogue that should go on in public”.

Mijares called the discussion “extremely frustrating” saying “everything you do has legal ramifications” accusing the council of “sending the wrong massage (because) the public is not involved “

That was followed by a round of hand-wringing from each council members with each saying the pubic must “trust us” but offering no justification for that trust.

But at the end when it was her turn it appeared Councilperson Lani Kawahara might oppose the executive session when she asked Asing if he could “separate the vote” from two other proposed ES’ on the agenda, both regarding current lawsuits against the county.

When Asing asked her “which one don’t you want?” Kawahara asked for a recess.

And after the recess she had apparently been pressured into voting with the group saying ”all the councilmembers talked to me” and that she “will vote yes (and) ask the public to trust us”.

And with that the council voted for the ES and when they came back to public session they did not discuss it further.

Reached for comment over the weekend Kawahara indicated that she regretted her vote even though it would not have stopped the council from clearing the room and meeting in secret.

She told PNN that "I will be much more reluctant the next time I’m asked to approve of executive sessions of this nature. I’m still learning, and I will make mistakes" .

Kawahara said that she is still subject to a “big learning curve” as a new council member and remains committed to open governance and transparency.

She also said she plans to meet informally with the staff of OIP in O`ahu on Tuesday for a comprehensive briefing on the sunshine law and executive sessions.

1 comment:

nunya said...

OK. Itʻs the beginning of the year and new council. Before it becomes the end of their term and another batch of dummies, better to start looking into how to begin a recall of all the clowns.
They need to go and the county needs to get on with county business, not this stage and prop to maintain a step on a ladder for clowns to climb politically; they donʻt deserve and are not capable of the seat they hold let alone run for a higher position.
Idiots in office - getting really really tired of it already. And theyʻre so damned arrogant or afraid to show they donʻt know their asses from holes in the ground, that they canʻt even accept the wisdom the public the public usually has to offer.
Enough already. RECALL. They are illegally trespassing on our laws, our time and our right to a healthy environment.
It is not THEIR island, contrary to what they may believe. And THEY do not know whatʻs best for the island.