Thursday, January 22, 2009


THEY LIKE THE DARK AS DARK AS CAN BE: Former mayoral candidate and open government advocate Rolf Bieber has been nominated to the Kaua`i Board of Ethics by Mayor Bernard Carvalho, PNN has learned.

Although in typical secretive fashion there has been no official announcement by the administration, Bieber’s name and those of eight other nominees for various boards and commissions appear on an agenda for a “special” council meeting to “interview” them, set for next Tuesday January 27.

Bieber, who has in the past testified before the council in support of enforcement by the Ethics Board of conflict of interest provisions and in opposition to executive sessions to discuss public policy, said that he is “honored to be able to serve” and thanked Carvalho for the nomination.

Bieber endorsed Carvalho’s mayoral bid in the closing days of the campaign last fall.

“Ethics in county government is an issue near and dear to me” said Bieber in a telephone interview this morning. “I ran on open and good governance and hope to take that platform to the Ethics Board.“

But while, if confirmed Bieber’s nomination might put a fresh face on the Ethics Board some of the others nominated as straight from a list of the same old faces- cronies of Carvalho’s and past Mayors Bryan Baptiste and Marianne Kusaka.

One of the most bizarre nominations is that of former County Attorney under Kusaka, Hartwell Blake, to the Planning Commission to fill the “environmental” slot.

The county charter calls for planning commission members to come from three sectors- two from business, two from labor and two from the environmental community- in addition to one “at large” slot.

It is a real head-scratchier is what Blake’s environmental credentials might be but the charter is silent on the criteria and past administrations and councils have failed to develop any criteria leaving the provision all but a joke.

Other cronies and campaign stalwarts include former civil defense coordinator under Kusaka, Cayetano “Sonny” Gerardo who served as Carvalho’s attack dog on former Mayor and again mayoral candidate Joann Yukimura during last year’s campaign.

In the closing days of the campaign Gerardo wrote a series of letters and emails in conducting a smear campaign rehashing unsubstantiated and often fabricated rumors regarding Yukimura’s actions following Hurricane ‘Iniki, alleging that she “took care of her north shore friends and ignored the west side” claiming she “bungled” the clean up.

Yukimura won national awards for her handling of the aftermath of the storm, especially her handling of the debris.

Gerardo is up for confirmation to the Board of Review, which hears property tax appeals, along with another familiar name- former prosecutor Craig DeCosta who declined to run for another term last year.

The full list of nominees and their terms includes:

•Paul Weil – First Term to expire 12/31/2011
•Rolf Bieber – Partial Term to expire 12/31/2009
•Cayetano “Sonny” Gerardo – First Term to expire 12/31/2011
•Craig DeCosta – First Term to expire 12/31/2011
•Cathy Adams – First Term to expire 12/31/2011
•Gary Pacheco – First Term to expire 12/31/2011
•Charles Iona – First Term to expire 12/31/2010
•Hartwell Blake – (Environmental Designee) First Term to expire 12/31/2011
•Carol Suzawa – First Term to expire 12/31/2011

But if anyone wants to hear what questions the council asks the nominees don’t look for them to be televised.

The council has for years done all it could to keep secret these confirmation hearings- euphemistically called interviews- including refusing to fund their taping and, instead of scheduling them during regular council meetings, has used “special council meetings” to perpetuate the secrecy of the interviews after losing a battle with the Office of Information Practices (OIP) to keep them in executive session.

Back before January of 2002 the council refused to open the interviews to the public citing a provision in the county charter- part of the infamous Section 3.07(e) which was removed from the charter by voters this past fall after surreptitious wording gave the false impression that it would require the council to abide by the state sunshine law.

But after four years of testimony as to the illegal nature of the interviews and requests of OIP for enforcement of the state sunshine law by PNN, in January of 2002 a request was made by then-returning councilperson Yukimura asking the OIP if indeed they were allowed to go into executive session for the “interviews”.

The matter blew up that month when the year’s list of nominees were scheduled for interviews in executive session.

That stormy morning, despite a series of frantic phone calls from OIP forbidding the council from holding the interviews behind closed doors the council did so anyway causing an angry rebuke via fax and a subsequent written opinion from the toothless-tiger OIP.

That left the humid hallways of the historic county building full of dozens of soaking wet nominees standing around (for lack of seats) in foul weather gear, while the council sat in their air-conditioned chambers and invited them in one by one.

Since then the hearings have been technically open to the public but have been kept out of the purview of the general public as much as possible by a prohibition of televising the meetings.

Although councilmembers have cited the cost of taping and captioning meetings as a reason for keeping interviews off the air there appears to be no such concern over the endless hours of televised and captioned “awards” and “certificates”.

These little self promotional grandstanding events for councilmembers are not even part of the official agenda yet are routinely scheduled at the beginning or even during the middle of council meetings. They serve as free campaigning when members of the community are fawned over by the council before posing for the mandatory grip and grin photo to fill the local paper’s news hole.

Despite promises from candidates during the intervening years to make sure the confirmation sessions are televised the budget never seems to have enough money for them. And of course since what gets taped and doesn’t get taped is up to the famously secretive and paternalistic Council Chair Kaipo Asing, these interviews will most likely be hidden for the foreseeable future.

The public may come and testify or attempt to ask their own questions of the nominees at the 8:30 a.m. meeting and will most likely be able to testify on camera when the council confirms the nominations which, although the agenda isn’t out yet, will probably occur at the full council meeting scheduled for the next day, Wednesday January 28.

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