Wednesday, March 14, 2012


NOW YOU DON'T SEE IT, NOW YOU STILL DON'T SEE IT: We realize that criticizing the council today may be one of those "no good deeds goes unpunished" type of things. After all, it only took a decade and half to get the paperwork for council agenda items posted on-line after the promise had been made to get it done "tout suite."

So today we have an excuse for our usual "but we digress" style.

Legendary local Kaua`i newspaper Editor Jean Holmes tells the story of how, when the paper's founder Charlie Fern hired her from the Howard County Times in Maryland, he assigned her to cover the Kaua`i County Council.

"When I walked in they practically had to put their pants on" she used to say of the colorful, equally legendary (albeit for different reasons) cast of council characters who had never seen a woman in the council chambers, much less a "lady reporter."

When we first attended a meeting in the pre-television days, not much had changed except that a different cast of characters were perturbed, this time at a haole hippie being in their midst.

Proceedings came to a screeching halt but after a bit of "who the heck are you and what are you here for?" then-County Clerk "Bunji" Shimomura (are we even close to the correct name and or spelling of either?) informed them, much to their astonishment, that indeed they had to allow members of the public- even this apparent wild man- to observe them in action.

But TV changed things. Dragged kicking and screaming into the 1990's, public access TV put council proceedings under the public microscope, albeit in fits and starts with officials finding ways to delay and indeed at times suspend cablecasts until almost 2000.

Around the same time, something called the "internet" was burgeoning and it took a mammoth effort to just get the weekly agendas posted at ""- the domain purchased by then-Mayor Maryanne Kusaka, despite the fact that governments already had "dot gov" domains reserved exclusively for them.

By then, as a regular, we had gotten used to the cat and mouse game that interested members of the public, like the notorious "nitpickers"- and even reporters- were required to play, especially when it came to obtaining the aforementioned paperwork. The most annoying flaming hoop was the one called "how can you ask for it by name if you don't know it exists?". The OIP wasn't exactly accessible those days- even with a long distance call there was no "attorney of the day"- so we got pretty much got only what they wanted us to get.

But then suddenly, with the ascension of Ron Kouchi to Council Chair and Republican Kusaka in the mayor’s seat, revealing administration scandals- from, gem-gate to red-Chrysler-gate- became Kouchi's favorite game and the paperwork- especially the juicy stuff- began flowing on a more regular basis.

But there was a catch- although by the early 2000's the council's agendas began to be posted on-line the associated paperwork was available only at Council Services desk. Of course the game in those days was that agendas for the then-Thursday meetings came out as or after the doors to Council Services were locked for the weekend- with the required six days notice for meetings conveniently reduced to three beginning Monday at 9 a.m.

Than meant the already small window got smaller still and required a trip to Lihu`e to boot.

So, with the turn of the century began our quixotic century quest to get that paperwork posted on-line. But so too started the paternalistic reign of Chair Kaipo "it's not public information until I say it's public information... and the OIP can 'bite me'" Asing.

You get the idea. For ten years councilmembers promised posting of documents would begin post haste. Eventually though, not only Asing but even those self-same councilmembers- now having seen who was politically buttering their Portuguese Sweet Bread- were suddenly silent on the issue.

Without those documents by the way, the community would probably never know about the slew of sexual harassment cases which we only found out about because the suit was included- perhaps accidentally- in the "packet." Previous to that we had to be handed papers cloak and dagger style by anonymous sources- one time literally under a toilet stall.

Of course the main problem now is that although the paperwork is available- not at the council's page of the county web site but through "Granicus," a huge mainland company that is contracted to produce and "webcast" the meetings- it is not available in a "text" format but as a "scanned" file.

That means that someone trying to use any of the paperwork to testify- or for any reason like informing others- cannot simply "lift" the text from the file but must re-type it.

It is also probably a violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) because the "voice recognition" software used by the visually-challenged will not work with a "picture" of the piece of paper- which is what is essentially what is being used by the county, which apparently supplies Granicus with the files.

Of course some of the paperwork either wasn't created in text or doesn't lend itself to text such as maps or graphs or the like. But there is what is called "Optical Recognition" software which is widely used these days to convert a scanned picture of the words into a "text file." Although errors may be contained in the conversion, going back and comparing it with the original is certainly preferable having to "key in" a 5,000 word document or even a 100-word quote.

Of course we complain because we do this all the time- take documents and post them in text. We have a friend (yes- we do have a few despite being a recovering asshole-a-holic) who has been very generous with his/her time in doing conversions for us. But the county could do this once, for everybody... after all they say they've had to create a new full-time position just to post the already available paperwork.

Scanning and posting around 25- 50 pages apparently takes 40 hours a week. Guess they had to look for an available slug because there wasn't a competent tortoise or snail on the civil service list (sorry- nothing personal, just personnel).

We just discovered the availability of the files today so we don't know yet when the documents will be posted each week (why do we suspect they won't be available when the agenda is ready- usually on Thursdays- but rather as late as they can get away with?.. maybe because we've been dealing with these guys for almost 30 years).

We're not sure who is responsible for the postings- given that "new" Council Chair Jay Furfaro has been on the job for 15 months now without change and brand new County Clerk Ricky Watenabe has been on the job for only about a month or so, we suspect that it is Ricky's doing... especially since Rick has been one of the only senior staffers in council services who has not just made himself available but actually never lied through his teeth to us or evaded our questions and/or requests, lo these decades.

Anyway there's still some stuff missing like committee reports, some communications, legal documents (a real biggie as to digging out news) and even a resolution and a bill for second reading (meaning "ready for final passage") as well as of course whatever is available for executive sessions- another document treasure trove which, many times, is where court filings of lawsuits may be available since they are public records.

So yes- it is a "what have you done for me lately" type of thing. Maybe we should make like the local newspaper... sit down, shut up and say "thanks for the crumbs massah"

All we can say is "put your pants on ladies and gentlemen of the council, there are woman and kids- and wildly rabid reporters- watching.

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