Monday, July 20, 2009


DON’T ROLL OVER: It’s nice to see the local newspaper opining in the form of classic editorials again lately.

Sunday’s entry demanding County Attorney Al Castillo enforce the infamous Charter provision 20.02(d) which bans employees and officials from “appear(ing) in behalf of private interests before any county board, commission or agency”, was a commendable no-brainer.

In it they illuminated the dearth of neural interplay that went into Castillo’s bizarre opinion on the subject and the resultant Board of Ethics (BOE) actions clearing undeniably conflicted county officials- including two members of the BOE itself, Mark Hubbard and Judy Lenthall- even though Castillo himself said the law is “crystal clear”.

They wrote:

It’s Castillo’s job to ensure that the law — the County Code, Kaua`i Charter, Hawai`i Constitution and U.S. Constitution — is applied appropriately on our small island, and his continued misrepresentation of the law to the Board of Ethics on the matter of 20.02(d) is nothing short of a dereliction of duty...

In an interview this week with Michael Levine, Castillo... still tried to defend his office’s disregard of the county’s primary legal document...

Reading that made many of us who have been shaking our heads in disbelief, feel a little less alone, thinking it’s nice to know someone else “gets it”.

But then, as if to say “not so fast” the editorial made it apparent that they don’t, saying

Castillo told Levine he weighs adherence to the law against his “desire to allow for public participation” in government, and in an earlier appearance before the Board of Ethics said full application of 20.02(d) could lead to “absurd results.”

We think Castillo’s heart is in the right place. We agree that 20.02(d), if applied overzealously, could lead to absurdity. We agree that public participation in government is a noble aim. We aren’t advocating that Judy Lenthall be chastised for her public service with the Kaua`i Food Bank or that Mark Hubbard be run out of town for repping the Kaua`i Planning and Action Alliance....

It’s up to the Charter Review Commission to help fix the poorly worded section of the charter, and it’s up to them to outline what, if any, exemptions should be extended to those who do volunteer work in the public interest.

As we’ve said that’s a bunch of hogwash. “Chastising” Lenthall and Hubbard for their appearance on behalf of private interests is not the point. It’s their action in refusing to abide by the law and resign their BOE posts that is in need of chastising.

The law is fine just the way it is. As a matter of fact the enforcement of the law, as written, is a key to ending hold the revolving-door, old boys and girls network has on our boards and commissions.

The contention there could be “absurd results” in upholding the 20.02(d) only applies if one absurdly abuses the plain language of the charter.

As we’ve said before when the phrase “appearing on behalf of a private interest” is applied it does not include simply appearing- as one’s self- for a personal matter such as applying for a driver’s license. There is no problem with the law there. It’s only the equivocational use of the word “interest” that is absurd.

But the big problem is in the contention that because people “do good” they should be exempted through a charter amendment.

First of all, who is “doing good” is a matter of opinion.

But even if we all agree, it doesn’t matter whether one is “doing good” or appearing for a non profit. The potential for a quid-pro-quo, “one hand washes the other” result that the law foresees exists nonetheless.

When Ms. Lenthall or Mr. Hubbard appears before the county council on behalf of the food bank or KAPA and asks for money and then turns around and rules on the ethics of a county council member’s actions, his and her positions are compromised and such a person should not be serving on a board or commission, “good work” not withstanding.

That doesn’t mean that we think either of them will necessarily do something wrong. It means that we don’t want to put people in positions where their integrity has to be even questioned by virtue of the potential conflict of interest presented.

This goes for all board and commission members who make discretionary decisions. We can’t ask them to be above reproach if we put them in a position in which they are reproachable.

Like Caesar’s wife they should be beyond reproach.

Finally the contention that somehow those who have these conflicts are the only ones who can serve is perhaps the most absurd thing here. There are tens of thousands of Kaua`i citizens who can serve on boards and commissions without violating 20.02(d). There are tens of thousands have never and will never appear before a board or commission on behalf of a private “special” interest.

We don’t need to keep seeing the same few dozen conflicted faces over and over, rotating from board to board while they come hat in hand before other boards.

It’s not a matter of questioning their integrity. It’s a matter of them putting themselves in a position where their integrity is naturally in question by serving two masters.

The law is a good one. The law is a necessary one. The law is, in fact, exactly what’s needed most on Kaua`i. All we need is enforcement.


Eleanor said...

I suppose you are too controversial to put this in the Garden Island? You write very well, except you could use a little paring down, more succinct, and get your points across.


Andy Parx said...

Yes- GI isn't ready for the truth quite yet.

You can write me at gotwindmills(at), Eleanor.