Thursday, July 2, 2009


A LOAD ON THE PAPER: The dynamic duo of “new” blood at the local paper in the personages of Editor Nathan Eagle and Assistant Editor Michael Levine has brought a new era of, if nothing else, clear concise writing and reporting on Kaua`i.

But wouldn’t you know someone would go and ruin it with the rehiring of perhaps the worst writer and most ethically challenged reporter in the paper’s and island’s history, Paul Curtis.

Curtis, who has been hired and fired at the paper more than once over the last couple of decades, is the master of sycophantic reporting and has a skill for writing entire articles having no idea what he’s writing about or what the “real story” is.

Today’s Curtis entry, headlined “Mayor asks Commission to defer pay raises” tells us that “Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. has asked the county Salary Commission to defer pay raises for himself and county department heads scheduled to take effect Dec. 1”.

Curtis regurgitates Carvalho’s letter to commission Chair Gini Kapali- a former mayoral appointee to several positions over the past decade plus- explaining that, in order to fulfill a campaign promise, he was asking the commission to rescind a 7% increase due in December.

But then there are these seemingly contradictor paragraphs:

The matter is expected to be on the agenda of the Salary Commission’s meeting July 14, said Mercedes Youn of the county Boards and Commissions Office.

In a letter transmitting the salary resolution to the County Council for its consideration, Kapali said the County Charter provides for the commission salary resolution to become effective without concurrence of the mayor and council if not rejected by a super majority of five members of the council within 60 days of its adoption.
How the letter could have been sent when the matter was not yet on the agenda isn’t explained, although presumably he’s referring to a resolution from earlier this year that would be rescinded if the Salary Commission decides to do as Carvalho requests.

This all too typical example of Curtis’ disjointed reporting is but a cog in the overall myopic presentation of the half-truths that Tokioka and Carvalho are trying to foist on the taxpayer because actually the 7% increase is only the last increment of a series of pay raises that have seen the Mayor’s salary go from $75,000 in June of 2007 to $114,490 today.

A 25% across the board increase for department heads, deputies, the county council and various other non-civil service appointees in July of 2005 was followed by 7% increases in both January and December 2008.

The last is scheduled for Dec. 1 2009.

The amount that Carvalho personally would be forgoing would have only raised his salary to $122,504, a raise of a little over $8,000 after close to $40,000 in raises recently.

Of course the fact is that the Mayor could have asked for the rescinding of some of those recent raises but the ever uninquisitive Curtis never asked about that much less tried to put what Carvalho and Tokioka were spoon feeding him in any kind of context.

Not only that but the salary ordinance calls for a salary “range” under the control of the hiring authority for each position giving the mayor the power to pay many of them less than the maximums.

According to the article Tokioka said that going the Salary Commission route was “the easiest way” to freeze salaries and apparently not asking what the other alternative are was also the easiest way for Curtis to avoid either working harder or embarrassing his friend Beth.

What Curtis is doing back at the paper is anyone’s guess. There’s certainly no shortage of out of work reporters these days many with excellent journalistic skills.

Perhaps no one remembers the Andy Gross fiasco.

Gross was an first-rate Business Editor with a Columbia School of Journalism degree a few years back who was not just a skilled writer and reporter but had lived on the island before working for the paper. He actually had a penchant for reporting the truth and digging deeper than the surface reporting that Curtis and other defenders of the realm at the paper have routinely spit out over the years.

Curtis, acting as weekend editor at the time, tried to censor, severely edit and essentially squelch a series of investigatory reports regarding operations at Kaua`i Island Utilities Co-op (KIUC) by Gross causing Gross to quit in disgust. all according to multiple sources at the paper and, they say, Gross himself.

Curtis was fired over the incident but now that Editor Adam Harju, who fired Curtis, is gone apparently no one is left that remember- or wants to remember- the incident.

Curtis got his start in reporting as a mouthpiece for the Nukoli`i developers at the now defunct “Kaua`i Times”, a newspaper that was specifically started to battle the citizen’s petition efforts to block the development at the old dairy, where the resort sticks out like a sore thumb in the middle of nowhere between Lihu`e and Wailua today.

We’re certainly not saying that we actually oppose the salary increases although we suspect many taxpayers do. We actually think that some positions were severely underpaid prior to Jan. 2007.

The council’s salaries went from the low $30,000’s to the mid-50’s and all that’s left to do now is to make them full time positions and rid them of conflicts-of-interest inherent in the outside employment mandated in the past by the old low salaries and their current part-time status.

But surely Tokioka’s PR spin on the “magnanimous” move by her boss deserves more context than the lazy reporting style Curtis has exhibited on the island over the last 25 years.


Thomas said...

I have some problems with your post, Andy. First off, Paul was not fired over the Andy Gross incident. He was fired for the Cynthia Kaneshiro incident. Cynthia, you may remember, wrote a piece about Clipper Joe O'Hagan, a Jimmy Pflueger apologist who sued Pflueger's nemeses, the Marvins, over the Pilaa mudslide. The case was eventually thrown out of court.

After the Marvins cried foul, Kaneshiro was slow in writing a piece detailing the Marvins' side of the case, and when Curtis didn't publish it right away (because there was breaking news on Sunday), Adam Harju saw it an attack on his authority and fired him. Kaneshiro, BTW, went on to work for Pflueger and O'Hagan's lawyer, Mark Zenger.

Andy Gross quit because, after Andy wrote the KIUC series, Paul, then the acting editor, appeased former publisher Shanna Pollard and wrote an editorial basically backtracking most of what Gross had dug up. According to Andy, he showed up at work, read the editorial, crumpled it up, put it on Paul's desk, and quit on the spot.

But look, Pollard and the KIUC clan were very close, and Paul was trying to get the editor job on a permanent basis. Pollard dangled that job in front of Paul for six months while he put in 80 hours a week for crap pay, then turned around and hired Harju, who moved overseas.

You can call Paul Curtis a lot of things, but lazy is not one of them. And I wouldn't question his integrity either, because he's got more than you or I do.

Tony Sommer said...

I was absolutely stunned to see Paul's byline reappear in The Garden Island a month or so ago.

So Andy's blog entry was dead solid perfect.

In the dozen years that I've known (and for a year worked with)him, Paul's sole ambition as a reporter was to be hugged and patted on the back by everyone at every event he covered.

There are two skills involved in being a good journalist: Writing skill and insatiable curiosity.

Paul has neither.

He's a lousy writer. His lead usually is buried half way down the story.

And, he never asks a hard question or does any research. He just regurgitates the press releases without any inquiry.

There's a reason his entire journalism career has been spent on
TGI and The Kauai Times. You can't go much lower on the newspaper world totem pole.

What's next?

The return of Lester Chang?

Sad. Kauai deserves better.

Tony Sommer