Friday, July 24, 2009

MUTINY AT THE COUNTY

MUTINY AT THE COUNTY: All that was missing in Chair Kaipo “Captain Queeg” Asing’s defense of his iron fisted managerial style at yesterday’s council kafuffle was a couple of steel balls and repetitious claims that “it was the strawberries” that were at the heart of all the simple demands for fair equitable and transparent treatment from Councilmembers Tim Bynum and Lani Kawahara.

Well, actually the steel balls were present, not rolling around in the Chair’s hands but between his legs symbolizing his gall in using every misdirection and misinformation trick in the book in vainly grasping at any straw to keep the council labyrinth under the sole domain of the Minotaur.

By now most have read the coverage of the 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. emotion-packed council meeting but only a viewing of the tapes can give a sense of the gradual descent into madness exhibited by Asing as he tried everything he could to not address the issues and instead attack the two reformers and defend an archaic set of whole cloth polices with a “who, sweet little me?” routine .

Most everyone knows by now the three simple reforms demanded by Bynum and Kawahara – that they actually receive mail addressed to them (imagine such nerve) , that their right to place matters on the agenda is assured and that they and the public have timely and equitable access to council documents.

So we won’t rehash them or the long and sordid history of their attempts to work toward resolving them internally. They’re all available at their kauaiinfo.org web site.

The meeting began with dozens of members of the public filing up to demand their rights as constituents- to allow their representatives to do their work. Then Bynum and Kawahara essentially tried to tell the same story they had told at their web site and in op-ed articles in the newspaper.

That’s when the going got weird and weird got going, in the person of not Asing but County Attorney (CA) Al Castillo. He apparently had been instructed by Asing to stop discussion of the particulars of how mail was distributed if Bynum and Kawahara were doing the accusing.

He seemed hell bent on stopping any nitty-gritty discussions of some of the manipulations and machinations, not giving any reason why other than to essentially read the sunshine law that allows the council to go into executive session (ES) to discuss their duties, liabilities privileges and the like.

From what we could glean from Castillo’s continual, cryptic, guarded and severely parsed interruptions of Bynum’s and Kawahara’s “presentations”, apparently the contention that the council routinely ignores the sunshine law, that Asing and his staff obstruct justice and interfere with access to public document by councilmembers and misdirect their mail- as well as who knows what they were about to reveal- involved exposing illegal activity.

And, in addition, since the charges involved activities of “staff”- specifically and presumably County Clerk Peter Nakamura- Castillo interpreted that as discussing “personnel” matters.

The open discussion of the subject essentially ended with a new catch-22 of Castillo’s design. If the councilmembers detailed matters of illegal activity such as document manipulation, interference with the US mail or who knows what, they would be “exposing the county to liability”. But of course if they don’t detail what they know they’d be colluding in the crimes.

The two were incredulous at this as was the crowd which expressed its anger with screams, cat calls and boos when Castillo called for an executive session to discuss the charges.

But rather than holding an ES, Kawahara asked to speak to Castillo during a recess and after an apparently long recess where, according to witnesses Castillo badgered Kawahara in an animated conversation, Kawahara, choking back tears of frustration told the assembled that somehow it had evolved to the point where “it’s a matter of how long I want to be a councilmember” saying that now she wanted an executive session to apparently discuss some of the threats Castillo made.

But now it was Asing who refused to go into ES even though Castillo asked for one causing Bynum to point out how a couple of weeks ago Asing has admonished him for not following the CA’s advice to go into ES.

Anyway the ES didn’t happen and Kawahara did manage to get out some of her presentation detailing and demonstrating how email that was addressed to her was distributed by printing it out, without the return address and explaining how things addressed to “the chair and all councilmembers” were either long delayed or sometimes never reached her.

“This is exactly what should go on the public record, not in executive session” she said in describing her presentation.

It was then time for Asing’s defense.

“I could refute every allegation (Bynum) made- you’ve heard things that are false, half the truth, maybe not even that” said Asing.

And although he was belligerent in personally attacking Bynum and Kawahara- after they had simply tried to stick to the issues- and promised to refute every point, as he addressed each he did anything but, answering unrelated changes he seemed to make up on the spot as if to appear to address the issues the two raised while actually ranting on about unrelated and irrelevant information on almost every point.

In classic “are you going to believe me or your lyin' eyes” manner he conveniently disregarded Bynum’s attempts to place a rules change on the June 3 agenda, as an agitated Asing showed Bynum’s signature on the “current” council rules passed last December 1 saying Bynum wasn’t truthful in claiming he was not able to introduce a rule change.

Asing charged that Bynum didn’t suggest changes “even though you had every opportunity to do so.”

Problem was he was talking, not about the June 3 meeting or any of the numerous internal requests both Bynum and Kawahara had made to put rule changes on the agenda but about the ceremonial and scripted inaugural meeting at the convention hall.

The fact is that this “first council meeting” after each election takes place in the back room before hundred of dignitaries and is the “real” swearing in ceremony. It is anything but an opportunity to address the rules.

This year for example when we and activist Bruce Pleas wanted to speak about aspects of the rules we literally had to disrupt the meeting and had the people present squirming in their seats and giving us stink eye for daring to interrupt the script, which usually calls for unanimous votes on a few matters- including appointing the clerk which of course means the council never got to address the rules of that appointment at a regular council meeting unless the chair allows it onto the agenda.

By daring to speak we were also holding up the “fake” swearing in that was about to happen in the auditorium where 1000 plus people were looking at their watches wanting to know what the holdup was.

Asing then went on to try to disprove that Bynum’s charges that they didn’t have the ability to place items on the agenda as the council rules require (although they did say the chair must initial all agenda items).

Bynum has cited years of attempts to put a bill before the council appropriating $400,000 to study beach erosion at Po`ipu Beach and Asing’s refusal to allow it.

But instead of addressing the years of attempts and his refusal Asing went into a long diatribe about how there was a potential budget deficit in January at the time of Bynum’s last attempt due to the possibility the legislature would take away the county’s share of the transient accommodations tax.

That, Asing claimed, made him reject the bill and rather put the money in the following year’s budget saying ”it’s the same thing” supposedly showing his wisdom.

He tried to parse the dustup as a young and out of control Bynum trying to spend money we didn’t have while he, the older cool head had found a better way to do it.

But later in explanation Bynum pointed out that the real story was that due to Asing’s stonewalling of his bill he had gathered many in the community to lobby the administration for the money and it was the administration, not Asing, that included it in the budget.

He also told Bynum he wouldn’t introduce it because “you don’t have three other votes”.

And indeed both councilperson Darryl Kaneshiro and Dickie Chang confirmed that they had discussed it and would support the chair in his denial- a commitment that is a blatant violation of the sunshine law and exemplifies Asing’s back-room dealing modus operandi.

Chang would later, during what passed for a brief Kumbaya moment in the meeting, revealed a plethora of sunshine law violations including commitments on votes made by at least three councilmembers as well as other backroom deals he had been involved in through serial one-on-one communications.

Bynum was floored by the attitude and the blatant violation of the law saying that it was his understanding that the way a open and democratic legislative body works is that you discuss the bill in public by putting it on the council agenda and have a public hearing.

If you get four votes there you get your bill. You don’t block it from even being discussed and do so in a back room through arm twisting and vote trading alliances.

Asing then went on to the subject of minutes and other documents being placed on the web site repeating many of the fabrications that were made in a June administration press release (as PNN reported) saying that he and the administration had been “working on it for years” and claiming absurd delays got in the way such as the death of Mayor Baptiste and the elections and other unrelated items.

And he chose to focus of a statement made by Bynum that it was almost impossible to find a jurisdiction that didn’t post important documents and other things like video of meetings, yelling over and over that the Big Island didn’t post “minutes’.

The fact is that the Big Island site does not post minutes but has slews of documents the Kaua`i site doesn’t including the whole county code, all the councilmember public disclosure reports (which aren’t even available on paper on Kaua`i as PNN has detailed) and even streaming video along with other documents.

And the fact is that the administration has, according to Bynum, now apologized to him for the fabrications in the press release admitting that any delays in posting the minutes- the only thing currently available on Kaua`i along with so-called recap memo from each meeting that no one even knew existed- were purely at Asing's demand, a matter that IT manager Erik Knutzen told us and many others last year, saying all he needed to do that and other things on line for the council was the chair’s say so.

The announcement” came only after two contentious meetings and the publicizing of the lack of on-line council documents by Bynum and Kawahara. And the administration had been posting minutes for many months when the press release was sent two weeks ago.

Yet the chair insisted “the system works- there’s no need to change the rules. I've done a good job of administering the rules. I’ve administered the rules the way it was intended to be”.

Then came one of the bigger misdirections. Bynum and Kawahara, as we mentioned above, had figured out that mail- including email and other snail mail and other correspondence- that is addressed to the “chair and all councilmembers” does not reach them in a timely manner sometimes taking days or even weeks and sometimes not getting to them at all.

But Asing insisted it wasn’t true saying that if something is addressed to a specific councilmember it goes directly to them. Problem is that that isn’t what the two had asked for.

Asing seemingly admitted not forwarding mail addressed to him and all councilmembers, going into a convoluted description of how “agenda” mail- whatever he decides that is- goes to staff for what he called “sanitizing”.

Then, ducking one of the prime issue, he astoundingly said “I wont be discussing electronic mail”.

Bynum and Kawahara have revealed how until last month they couldn’t even get email for all councilmembers in email form with at their council@kauai.gov addresses rather being printed out and put in their mailbox... with the return address deleted.

This has led to the institution at their demand of a new counciltestimony@kauai.gov address which is sent to them now by email even though other email is still printed out.

However, although the other email and electronic correspondence now has a return address it’s still not available as email, only on paper.

Another obtuse charge by Asing was that Bynum was doing what he accused Asing of doing- not distributing communications to all councilmembers when they come in from the administration saying Bynum didn’t forward a CA letter on a bill Bynum was working on to Asing and the rest of the council.

But that wasn’t the issue- Bynum’s memo from the CA was a personal request for information on a working draft of a document, not something that came into council services addressed to all councilmembers.

Another revelation was that Asing blocked a bill that Bynum tried to introduce requiring posting of minutes by the administration and council. But Asing blocked it at every point because apparently that would have revealed that the county was not complying with the law by getting the minutes for boards and commissions “done” in 30 days.

Rather than having the administration be “embarrassed” according to Asing, he blocked the bill.

After a few more of these, the meeting really got hot and heavy with Asing still trying to use his obfuscations and even outright fabrication when Bynum got a chance to respond.

It was then that, as the newspaper described it, it turned into a marriage counseling session.

Later, even while refusing to admit there was anything wrong with the rules or his actions or any council processes over which he presides, Asing promised massive changes will be instituted "on Monday" after which he went right back to his Captain Queeg routine.

That’s enough for today. We’ll most likely report more on the rest of the meeting soon- we haven’t even seen the end which we hear was a humdinger.

No matter what we write we can’t possibly do justice to the events and Asing’s absolute jaw-dropping stonewalling along with some cryptic mentions about someone “tampering with the county web site”, the involvement at one point of the police and the constant unexplained interruptions from Castillo which went on intermittently throughout the meeting.

Take a gander at the meeting, playing on channel 53 throughout the weekend- it’s so long it will probably be the only thing on.

5 comments:

Brad Parsons said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ace Harbinger said...

Well, well, well. What have we here?

Associated Press
HILO, Hawaii — A state judge says members of the Hawaii County Council violated the state's open-government law by privately discussing a council reorganization plan.
Circuit Judge Ronald Ibarra on Thursday issued a temporary restraining order, forbidding the council from doing business. But he delayed the start of the TRO until Aug. 5 to give the council time to rectify the situation.
The council has scheduled a special meeting for Aug. 4 to cancel the reorganization. It also plans to rehear all measures it considered after the June 16 changes went into effect.
Ibarra's decision stemmed from a lawsuit filed July 10 by West Hawaii Today. The newspaper alleges the private discussions constituted a violation of the Sunshine Law.

It may be that King Asing and the 3 D's are hearing the tolling in the distance.

- A.H.

peggy said...

andy,
what a show! hard to believe it was free and the best part is that its all gonna be different on monday. change we can believe in!

breaking the ice for the public good; no wonder jay wanted to sing kumbaya. hallelujah says tim. dickie broke his silence and darryl admits to being old fashioned. nothing new in kaipo's assertion that he aint gonna hange after 27 years. his classic powerpoint explaining the mail proved that.
meanwhile drinking curfews in the park, platic bag reduction, bike paths on the beach all take a backseat in the best theater on the island. no can beat this kine drama! thnx hoike for providing the rerun for those in the cheap seats.

Ace Harbinger said...

Peggy is right, of course.

It would be rather more pure entertainment, though, if it weren't for the terrible cringe effect.

- A.H.

Andy Parx said...

A post at Joan Conrow’s KauaiEclectic http://kauaieclectic.blogspot.com/2009/07/musings-trade-offs.html has spurred much misconceptions in comments left. To clarify some things I just posted the following there.

1) The full YRL for Tim and Lani’s site is
http://www.kauaiinfo.org/default.asp
It contains all you need to know.

2) Many of us have spent years at the labyrinth of council meetings and know intimately all the procedures, rules laws etc including what staff and everyone else does - It’s not very hard if you pay a little attention. We’ve been complaining about these same things Tim and Lani are now saying- and a whole lot more that they will be bringing up as soon as these low hanging fruit are picked- and have met the stonewall from the Minotaurs consistently. Try it sometime- it just takes a little research a few questions and paying attention.

3) Not only has Kaipo repeated for many years he doesn’t use a computer much less email, he repeated it at the meeting as I said in the first installment of my coverage yesterday
http://parxnewsdaily.blogspot.com/2009/07/mutiny-at-county.html I’ll have more soon.

4) Kaipo is notoriously impossible to reach. even by phone. He never returns messages left at council services unless it’s from a fellow government official or crony.

5) The fact is that meeting face to face meetings put councilmembers in jeopardy of violating the sunshine law if they talk about council related matter. On Thursday (watch the tape) Councilmembers Chang, Furfaro, Asing and Kaneshiro admitted breaking the law when discussing their past face to face meetings, admitting they committed to votes- which is illegal under all circumstances- and saying that they “met” to deliberate council matters in “groups” of more than two many times- mostly through what’s called “serial one on one conversations” which are equally forbidden.

Knowing the sunshine law- and “getting it” unlike most councilmembers (even long time members)- Lani sought to avoid all this by being professional and more importantly transparent in sending on-the-record, publicly documented memos about her concerns and issue with the way Asing operates council services. If Kaipo wanted to meet face to face after all those memos and such from Lani he could easily of asked her. He even ignored proposed legislation she and Tim submitted. The fact is he never even acknowledged receiving any one of them which was the reason Lani and Tim went public with their concerns since it was the only way.

6) When dwps says “i can understand why some people do not want to use (email), or just avoid it all together” because it leaves a paper trial, well that would only be if you are doing something shady or illegal.