Tuesday, July 14, 2009


WAY BACK WITH PEABODY: One of the first things they teach you in Journalism schools is about the lead or “lede” as they spell it in the trade- the first sentence or paragraph that tells the reader in a nutshell what the most important things in the story are.

And the second thing you learn is to not “bury the lede”, meaning you don’t have a “punch line” at the end that reveals the most important information- info that should be in the first 25 words or so.

So maybe it was just being new in town that caused ace reporter at the local newspaper Michael Levine to end a snoozer about the cost control commission’s troubles effecting energy savings with this:

Next month, the commission will host a discussion with television station Ho`ike regarding the broadcast of county government meetings. The Boards and Commissions Office is currently in contract negotiations with Ho`ike, a staff member said.

(Cost Control Commission Chair Randy)Finlay said it would be “fruitless” to hold the discussion after the contract is executed, adding that the county “would appreciate the scrutiny” that the commission offers and that he hopes the status quo month-to-month arrangement will be allowed to continue until after the commission’s August meeting.

If we read this right the big news is that after more than a decade and a half of demands that the county expand their TV coverage of boards and commissions (Bs & Cs) we may actually get to subject some of their all important processes to public scrutiny.

Many of the most corrupt decisions in county government occur for all intent and purpose in total secrecy since there are slew of these Bs & Cs that have most likely never seen a member of the public at their sessions and wouldn’t know what to do with one if someone attended.

Others have been meeting in executive session without any notice and without following procedures for doing so and only complying with the sunshine law when people start showing up... as happened recently with the ethics board.

It’s no wonder- it’s in conformance with the Minotaur conciseness of “doing what’s wrong as long as they can” that has pervaded Kaua`i county operations for decades.

In late 90’s the county council used to meet in executive session preceded by an announcement that they were going into executive session and nothing more- no specific reasons for doing so, no individual sessions for each item and no listing of which eight specific exemption under the sunshine law for each specific item.

After a year of complaints from PNN the council complied with the law but only after then council chair Ron Kouchi told the county attorney to start doing so.

That led a short time later to both PNN and the Honolulu Star Bulletin reporter Anthony Sommer attending a police commission meeting and requesting compliance. That “request” surprisingly spurred compliance the very next meeting when two then-new commissioners, Michael Ching and Carol Furtado demanded the commission follow the law.

Other Bs & Cs have complied with the law over the years but there are still some that act as if someone walked in on their private little wing of the labyrinth if someone actually shows up.

Years previous to the early 90’s when cablecasting of council meetings began, the council was quite the same way according to Jean Holmes who took over the job of editor of the local newspaper in the early 60’s.

She told us that when she came in as editor the council coverage in the newspaper consisted of what one of the councilmen- note the gender specific reference- came by the paper and told them supposedly happened.

Jean says that she decided to attend a council meeting and when she did “they practically had to put on their pants” as she said. There had never been a reporter or pretty much any member of the public- much less a woman- in the council chambers before but she told them they’d better get used to it and made it a point to include objective independent coverage thereafter.

But there are still B’s and C’s that have that reaction when someone walks in.

Beyond the possibility that some other Bs’ and Cs’ meetings might be televised lies the other revelation- that the contract for producing the recordings of them is up for renewal and rather than put the contract out for bid- as the county was forced to do in the past- they are rather “negotiating” a new contract with the notoriously incompetent and sycophantic Ho`ike.

About a decade ago activists demanded that the contract be put out to bid so that one of the myriad of professional video service companies on the island might bid on it.

For a year or so, the contract went to Kaua`i Worldwide Communications (KWC) run by Carol Bain and Ed Coll. They reportedly bid on it as a public service and to show how a well run outfit would do the job even though they knew they would lose money doing so.

And indeed many of the complaints about the Ho`ike service were resolved through KWC’s production.

The distracting and bothersome “open captions” that are used by Ho`ike to this day because they can’t competently produce closed captioning were eliminated and closed captioning was working fine. The recordings were day and time stamped on the screen so they people knew what the date of the meeting being shown was and which point in the meeting they were viewing.

But the reason they knew they would lose money was that although Ho`ike is required to provide for the actual telecast of the meetings no matter who produces them, production itself is up to the county to pay for.

And when the county bought the original equipment, after a few years of Ho`ike production- all without a contract- somehow the equipment became the property of Ho`ike. Also Ho`ike was and is using the money they get from the tax on everyone’s cable bill that supports Public, Government and Education channels to subsidize their bid meaning that other bidders had to compete with an outfit that was not only using their own tax dollars to compete with them but had their equipment paid for.

The county, with the help of Ho`ike, also harassed KWC and after the year was up, they rewrote the procurement specifications to virtually make sure that Ho`ike would be the only bidder. KWC lost money on the deal and couldn’t compete with the Ho`ike bid and Ho`ike has controlled the whole process ever since.

We are somewhat trepidatious that this might be only for the cost control commission. It makes us wonder when reading that “the county ‘would appreciate the scrutiny’ that the commission offers” if the county would televise the meetings of things like the ethics board and many others that might NOT “ appreciate the scrutiny”.

At any rate, it’s not clear from Levine’s coverage whether the county intends to televise all or even any other B and C meetings but if they do so it would seem to require a new open bidding process, not just for the news ones but the current council, police commission and planning commission meetings as well. and they might just consider requiring the equipment the taxpayers paid for be passed on to any new winning bidder as well as making sure the Ho`ike bid doesn’t take advantage of being a quasi-governmental entity.


Eleanor said...

what the hell did "way back with Peabody" have to do with the article? Is this some kind of inside joke?

I do appreciate your journalism, rabid as it is. I didn't open your emails for the longest time thinking it was still about the police thing. Talk about a "lede". It would be helpful if that showed up instead of cutsy "tilting at windmills" kind of stuff.


Andy Parx said...

Yes, Ellie, perhaps “got windmills?” wasn’t the best, most informative title for this column but with the software I’m using I’m stuck with it. Perhaps the title was as quixotic as the content.... it’s a little too literary and obtuse- but then so am I.

Peabody (actually I think I misspelled it) was the dog whose “pet boy” was Sherman in an old cartoon who used the “way back” machine to give skewed history lessons.