...GANG AFT AGLEY: The dysfunctionality of the corrupt crony-riddled board and commission (B&C) system on Kaua`i is not a new issue.
Prior to 2004 members were like babes in the woods, usually flung into their positions with no idea what they were supposed to do, getting on-the-job training confined to whatever dysfunctionality the current members had adopted from their predecessors.
They were selected via a closed secretive process by the mayor and interviewed in secret by the county council before an open confirmation with the public receiving little more than the name of the prospective appointees.
Most didn’t know the sunshine law from a hole in the ground and were surprised to find out they needed agendas- much less ones published and posted six days in advance- to meet and that the public was not just allowed to attend but were to be given the opportunity to testify regarding any and all agenda items.
It was so bad that the charter review commission (CRC) of that year decided that a skilled administrator and staff was needed to bring some cohesion and sunshine to the system.
But under B&C Administrator John Isobe most observers agree that if anything the lack of transparency and independence of members has gone from bad to worse with an administrator unskilled in anything but obfuscation and public relations keeping the selection process hidden, documents unreleased or difficult to obtain- one who sees open meetings and public input as a nuisance and foists that attitude on business and development oriented B&C members all too willing to help him do his dirty work for the administration.
The charter amendment- which, along with any and all amendments from the 2006 and 2008 are unavailable at the county web site, even on the non-updated page where the charter appears- was carefully drafted by the CRC to do a few things.
One was to select someone with skills and experience in doing the job.
The amendment on the ballot read:
There shall be a boards and commissions administrator and any necessary staff. The administrator shall have such training, education or experience as shall qualify the administrator to perform the duties described in this section.
Though the qualifications are pretty general it’s hard to see how Isobe meets them. Rather, a look at his past shows him to be a PR flack and himself a crony of the past three administrations.
A UH graduate and “lifelong” Hawai`i resident Isobe first shows up in 1996 as a spokesperson for Princeville corporation during a time of conflict with the homeowners there over various issues.
Though the dates are unclear his first stint with the county was as Deputy Finance Director under the Kusaka administration and was appointed to a state community-based economic development advisory council in 2006.
He was also a member of the infamous Kaua`i Economic Development Board under disgraced head Gary Baldwin who started the business-friendly pro-development board promoting a staunch chamber of commerce agenda until Baldwin left in disgrace after it was revealed that he was a wanted for running a financial scam on the mainland.
Then having proved himself adept at defending large and powerful corporations he held a positions at Kaua`i Community College (KCC) serving as director of the Kauai Rural Development Project where he developed “F.A.R.M... a strategy to bring the Kauai business community together through education” according to the Pacific Business Journal (PBJ) article in 2001.
That led to a job as training coordinator in the Office of Continuing Education and Training at KCC where, rather than offering traditional academic courses, he was part of a push to serve “business organizations, visitor bureau, chamber of commerce and (the) work-force investment board” telling PBJ in 2003 “’We are in constant contact with people in the industry and our courses revolve around their needs’" .
How that constitutes “training, education or experience as shall qualify” him to be B&C Administrator is anyone’s guess. It certainly qualifies him to know all the pro- development cronies in the Chamber of Commerce-KEDB crowd in order to make sure the B&Cs are stacked to reflect and protect their interests.
One of the most important parts of the amendment was what the administrator was supposed to do and the CRC made sure that open governance principles were to be one of the more important functions.
The charter amendment reads in part:
The administrator shall assist in providing administrative and operational support to the various county boards and commissions. Such support shall include, but not be limited to: assisting in the recruitment, orientation, education, and training of board or commission members regarding their powers, duties, functions, and responsibilities under the charter... (and) helping to educate such members about applicable state and county ethics laws and the State Sunshine Law... (emphasis added).
But the words “sunshine law” never appear at the county web site’s B&C page. Instead here’s Isobe’s blurb at the top of the B&C page:
Kauai County's 16 boards and commissions are comprised of 116 volunteer board members and commissioners who oversee and make critical decisions about key County functions and groups. Volunteers who serve on Kauai County boards and commissions are the best in their fields, local leaders, and valuable, knowledgeable resources. They give an extraordinary amount of time to serve in these roles each year and make both personal and professional sacrifices to do so. Because of this and the weight of their responsibilities to our community, they are among Kauai's treasures.
Instead of trying to recruit everyday citizens who have no preconceived notions- and especially no conflicts of interests in “their fields”- rather he seeks to find the “best in their fields, local leaders, and valuable, knowledgeable resources”- a euphemism for well connected people with a lot to lose if they offend the mayor, who can be counted on to “not rock the boat”... also known as his and the mayors cronies, supporters and campaign contributors, which includes Isobe.
Want more proof? Just look at the notice posted for the first B&C training session this year, scheduled for January 29th, on the “Role Of The Board/Commission Member”.
For some incredibly tone deaf reason it is not itself “agendaed” as a government meeting but rather is printed on Kaua`i Chamber of Commerce stationary and is apparently sponsored by the business promotion organization “Leadership Kaua`i”.
Among the topics covered are:
...your duties and responsibilities as a board or commission member, tips on what resources and materials are available (i.e. charter, county and state laws), general provisions of the law, standards of ethical conduct, guidelines on effective communications (and) basic parliamentary procedure.
The importance of transparency, open meetings and records and public testimony are not to be found.
This is exactly the attitude that former Board of Ethics member Rolf Bieber spoke of, especially the attitude among B&C members that they are the elite and know better than the common rabble whose testimony should be tolerated only because it is required by law- a law they are barely aware of.
John Isobe is the exact opposite of what a B&C administrator should be and is a disgrace to democracy and good governance. His resignation and replacement with a trained manager- one experienced in facilitating communication between citizen volunteers and members of the public- can only be a positive for Kaua`i which at deserves to have the charter amendment they passed honored.
We’ve gotta get outta the house tomorrow and Friday. Unless we feel especially ambitious we’ll be back Monday.