Monday, September 26, 2011


BEWARE THE IDES OF MARCH: Reading the local newspaper for information is normally like drinking diet soda looking for nutrition. And when it comes to government beat reporter Leo Azambuja's dispatches, it's often as if someone slipped a Mickey in your drink.

But if a particularly complicated discussion takes place in the council chambers, readers will probably wind up with a can of dehydrated water.

Such was our little buddy's report on the Salary Commission resolution being considered by the council last Wednesday, mostly because the very basic prerequisite facts for understanding what happened were either missing, mentioned without any context or explanation, or placed at the very end of the article.

One such missing fact is that the way salaries for appointed and elected officials are designated in the Kaua`i County Charter is that our Salary Commission set "caps" for the amount and then the appointing authority in each case designates the actual salaries. And, most importantly, the council must actively reject the resolution from the commission with at least five votes or it is automatically deemed to have been passed.

Those few words might have made the article intelligible but the "automatic passage" fact was missing in action and the words "appointing authority" not only appear 1022 words into a 1330 word piece but just kind of float there like a bug in our aforementioned soft drink.

But really that's beside the point because the real news from the meeting- what should have been the "lede"- could be summed up in the headline: Rapozo Levels Ethics Charges Against Isobe In Pay Raise Flap.

In all fairness this is what did appear 217 words before the end of the article:

Rapozo said it was ironic that the person who crafted the resolution, Boards and Commissions Administrator John Isobe, was the only county official who would get a pay raise if the new resolution is approved. Isobe’s position is not listed in the new resolution.

Ironic? How about corrupt.

Rapozo actually detailed how, according to salary commission documents and minutes, the salary commission, under Chair Charley King of King Auto Center, decided to allow Isobe to draft the actual resolution to be sent to the council, supposedly freezing many executive salaries at a lower level than had been contained in the previous resolution.

But when the final reso showed up before the council the only one whose salary cap was actually raised rather than lowered was Isobe's.

But it got worse. In trying to deny that any funny business took place, Council Chair Jay Furfaro took the tactic of defending, not Isobe but King, saying his integrity was essentially beyond reproach.

But if Charley is cast in the role of Caesar's wife then Leo is a competent journalist.

King has been a chief Republican leader and fundraiser for decades on Kaua`i and was widely thought to be the most influential person in the administrations of former Mayors Maryanne Kusaka and Bryan Baptiste.

As to King's "ethics" one example that sticks in out mind is "Big Red Chrysler-gate."

Kusaka was known to like "nice things." When she first got elected she was discovered to be selling jewelry to people seeking favors from her- right out of her office- in order to support her own expensive habit.

But one thing she didn't have was a nice big luxury car. So when she showed up driving a big red top-of-the-line Chrysler New Yorker people started to ask questions.

Well it seems that when Kusaka took office she had suckered the council into what was called "program based budgeting." The conflicts with the prior council and then Mayor, now Councilmember, JoAnn Yukimura, were legendary. So, in those post-Rodney King "why can't we all just get along" days, she brought in Steven Covey of the infamous "7 Habits of Highly Manipulative Jerkwads" or something like that and held love fests with the legislators.

In a gesture of this spirit of Kumbaya, the council eliminated "line-item" budgeting- where every expenditure is specifically appropriated by the council- to this "program based" system where the council essentially threw a big old heap of money at each department with little or no accountability for what it was spent on.

And one of the biggest mounds of moolah was that for the mayor's office which included not only her staff's expenses and salaries but those of most of the "agencies" that aren't created by the county charter.

So, with what amounted to her own multi-million-dollar slush fund, rather than buy her own car and charge the county for official uses, Kusaka didn't just get the county to buy the car but actually leased the Chrysler at multiples of what the purchase would have cost taxpayers.

And who did she lease it from? Why of course her chief adviser and campaign contributor and bundler Charley King who also made out pretty well on the exorbitant terms of the lease.

And of course it was almost impossible to actually figure all this out because there was no real record of it- or at last none that were reported to the council which is the body responsible for overseeing the purse strings of the county. It took some loose lips in the administration and a bit of investigative work by Honolulu Star-Bulletin Bureau Chief Anthony Sommer- the author of KPD Blue (see left rail)- to break the story to the "shocked-shocked" councilmembers who promptly went back to line-item budgeting... at their earliest possible convenience.

We have to admit that the funniest part of all of this was Furfaro's Shakespearean "but Charley is an honorable man" routine. But the tragedy just may be that the Friends, Romans and Countrymen on the Ethics Board- overseen by (drum roll, please) John Isobe- will not probably be lending their ears to anything.

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