Friday, December 28, 2012
BIG TIME: It's not often that these year's "best of " and "worst of" lists reach down deep to select local dignitaries but you might have seen this one coming.
Coming in at #39 on eBossWatch.com's 2012 list of America’s Worst Bosses is none other than defeated and disgraced Kaua`i Prosecutor Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho. In bestowing the "honor," they cited deputy prosecutor Shannon Weigel's $120,000 EEOC award for racial discrimination although they failed to mention the many other infamous abuses Iseri heaped upon her employees.
eBossWatch described it this way:
Hawaii’s Kauai County has agreed to pay $120,000 to settle an EEOC racial harassment lawsuit.
Shannon Weigel, who is white, claims that she was subjected to a racially hostile work environment by the prosecuting attorney, Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho.
According to the EEOC, Iseri-Carvalho made numerous derogatory comments to Weigel on an ongoing basis. Iseri-Carvalho allegedly told Weigel that she needed to assimilate more into the local Hawaiian culture and break up with her boyfriend at the time, who is also white, in favor of a local man.
Timothy Riera, director of the EEOC’s Honolulu Office, said, “The workplace is no place for derogatory remarks pertaining to race or any other protected basis, and it is important for an employer to take immediate corrective action when faced with illegal harassment. We commend the County of Kauai for expeditiously resolving this matter and agreeing to measures which will prevent and deal with both harassment and discrimination on the job.”
According to the site, eBossWatch was founded in 2007 and "is a popular career resource that helps
people evaluate potential employers and avoid hostile workplaces."
The 2012 top 50 list:
include(s) a college dean, four restaurant owners, a fire department chief, five doctors, a judge, three county prosecuting attorneys, and a state attorney general.
To date, the 2012 America’s Worst Bosses have cost their employers over $41 million in monetary damages and lawsuit settlement payments. Of this amount, the 2012 worst bosses in the public sector have cost their respective taxpayers over $21 million.
Monday, December 24, 2012
A TALL CHRISTMAS TALE: When I was four I decided that, unlike my friends, I wasn't dumb enough to think there was really a Santa Claus and I just knew that it was my mom and dad that snuck into my sister's and my bedroom and filled our stockings (yes, we were assimilationists to the max- tree and all... after all, I'm Andrew, not Schlomo).
So I stayed up to catch them. And I know I didn't fall asleep but one time when I got up to check THEY WERE FULL. I was mind-blown for another year.
Moral: Believe none of what you hear and half of what you see. Mele Kalikimaka to the gullible. For the rest, just be happy for the full stocking and stop asking so may questions.
Wednesday, December 19, 2012
ICARUS' LAMENT: Much as we're reticent to describe it as a feud- let's call it "policy dissonance"- we've butted heads with blogger/journalist/public advocate Ian Lind over the Sunshine.
As Ian wrote today in his weekly piece for Civil Beat
I’ve long been an advocate of openness in government, but I now find myself questioning whether the insistence on more and more “sunshine” really leads to the best public decisions and policies.
Well, to be accurate, Ian has been questioning it for a long time and we’ve been on the side that says that, as with democracy, the problems of too much Sunshine are best resolved with more sunshine rather than less.
Ian cites many of the same challenges that office holders have complained about for years.
Asking if we've "become too focused on process rather than policy outcomes," he lists the difficulties in discussing every little bit of minutia regarding a matter of pubic policy, well, in public.
Under " Unintended Consequences" he says:
The problem, in my view, comes when the sunshine law is interpreted as prohibiting all informal communication between officials outside of a public meeting, whether members of the county councils or of other boards and commissions
Hawaii’s law explicitly provides for private discussions between two members of a board “as long as no commitment to vote is made or sought and the two members do not constitute a quorum of their board.”
He then explains the prohibition on circumventing the sunshine law via "serial communications" and how, in trying to prohibit "back room deals," we've thrown open the door to special interest lobbyists being the ones who most influence policy rather than fellow legislators or- gasp- the public.
He says he was greatly influenced when he was about to become a staffer to the late Honolulu Councilmember Duke Bainum saying:
At some point, I asked about the internal politics of the rail debate and his sense of the perspectives and motivations of other council members.
“I don’t know,” Duke said with a shrug. “We can’t talk to each other because of the sunshine law.”
I recall being stunned by this revelation. I had assumed being a member of the city council, an insider, meant Bainum was in a perfect position to persuade his colleagues that the rail plans need more thorough scrutiny.
But how could he be effective without an understanding of where other council members were coming from? Isn’t understanding your opponents and finding levels on which to seek to communicate with them the essence of getting things done in politics? And should the process of political persuasion be restricted to things that can be said in a public meetings?
But as Ian knows, we most certainly do not agree- we've butted heads with him for years on the subject, even challenging his claim to have "long been an advocate of openness in government" while at the same time essentially calling for less, not more, sunshine.
With allies like this...
Anyway, the problem is that, as with many challenges, if you think "it's impossible" then it is. It comes down to the fact that office holders and staff need to figure out how it can be done, not cling to why it can't.
Low hanging fruit starts with meetings conducted under public agendas, especially for boards and commissions who often complain the loudest. And coming from the private sector and being volunteers make them reticent to be open to begin with. Bank presidents are not accustomed to letting shareholders in on their discussions with the rest of the board.
But for elected legislative bodies it shouldn't be a problem to meet more often. This once-a-week thing seems awfully arbitrary, while at the same time officials claim there isn't enough time to discuss things before the public.
But perhaps the easiest thing to do- or what should be the easiest- is for officials to understand the clear lines between information-gathering and deliberating toward a decision.
The law allows for appointment of information-gathering committees of less than a quorum of the body as a whole. But we've seen chairs, for example, claim that non-members of the council on these committees can't even be in the room during a meeting. Or worse, they don't even "get" the concept and have never set up such a committee.
Another example of not "getting" (or not wanting to get) the sunshine law in the first place is that it took years to convince some office holders/chairs that they are allowed to take testimony on an item not on the agenda as long as they don't discuss it right then and there, and rather put it on an agenda in six days. Some still don't get it... or won't allow it, feigning confusion.
Many unfortunately use a slippery slope interpretation of the sunshine law as an excuse to claim it's impossible to adhere to. We've constantly seen chairs narrow the scope of a posting to limit discussion so that they can either leave full discussion for a closed door attempt at circumvention of the "serial communication" rule or worse, so an item doesn’t get fully discussed at all due to political considerations.
Because, in the end, the political ramifications are the only reasons to say you can't discuss public policy in the open.
As a matter of fact, Ian has demonstrated that in his article.
The biggest sunshine law abuse is through an exemption to the open meetings law in order to discuss the "powers, duties, privileges, immunities and/or liabilities" with the board's attorney. It has become a legal loophole to discuss just about anything in "executive session" including things that are purely deemed politically sensitive.
But just thinking about trying to get the legislature to narrow the interpretation of some HRS 92 5(a)4 provisions scares the bejezus out of many Sunshine advocates, because even our supposed allies are willing to use the opportunity to broaden the exemptions to open meetings.
Yes, the Hawai`i law needs review. But people are necessarily reticent to open it up for review because they know they will face an "it can't be done so let's chuck it" attitude when we come in with our "here's how it can be done" attitude.
But, there's only one state senator who "gets it" and that's at the heart of the problem. Frankly, we're scared of an honest review to add more sunshine because we know others will use it as an excuse to make things more opaque.
They say it can't be done. But many of us are too busy trying to do it to agree.
Thursday, December 13, 2012
BORN FREE: Someone asked me yesterday why no one was even indicted when US Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer signed off on a $1.9 billion settlement with British banking giant HSBC for systematically laundering gazillions of dollars of international drug cartel money.
We'd told her we'd heard some mumbo-jumbo about how the people who worked apparently claimed they didn't see- or didn't want to see- anything out of the ordinary as they processed specially-made boxes of cash precisely the size of the opening in the tellers' windows.
Matt Taibbi goes into some depth today comparing the disparity between the punishment of the kingpins and the guy who gets jacked up and caught with a joint in his pocket (guess which one goes to jail).
But he answers the question in question by quoting the NY Times:
"Federal and state authorities have chosen not to indict HSBC, the London-based bank, on charges of vast and prolonged money laundering, for fear that criminal prosecution would topple the bank and, in the process, endanger the financial system. "
That's right- it's because they're TOO BIG TO JAIL.
Maybe that's why, unlike some, I'm not really all that thrilled sometimes when I wake up in the morning and Barack Obama is president.
Wednesday, December 12, 2012
HURRY UP BEFORE WE FALL FOR A FAST ONE: Are we having fun yet?
When nationally-proclaimed uber-liberal Neil Abercrombie announced he was leaving congress to run for governor and reverse the horrific wounds inflicted by Sarah Palin's pal, "What, me Republican?" Linda Lingle, many were encouraged that he would, if not be our "pal," at least put an end to the policy-by-press-conference and nose-thumbing of process that characterized her reign.
But we can't be the only ones who feel like Neil is quickly wearing out his welcome, especially after yesterday's "shame on you Sierra Club" rant for having the temerity to sue to stop him from doing administratively what he couldn't get the legislature to do.
Whether or not the state can afford to pay for the solar tax credits the legislature clearly granted- which have gone from a cost of $34.7 million in 2010 to $173.8 million in 2012- is not the stated issue in the suit, although Abercrombie apparently wishes it was.
The problem is that what the legislature giveth only the legislature- not rules passed by the state Department of Taxation (DOT) that conflict with the law- can taketh away.
So last session when the legislature failed to change the law that allows consumers to get multiple $5000 tax breaks for multiple photovoltaic "units," Abercrombie tried to pass administrative rules to do it- and is rushing passage of the DOT rules before the legislature goes into to session.
Where have we heard that before? (PLDC).
Abercrombie doesn't actually challenge this but instead is trying to not only demonize the Sierra Club but do it in a divisive way his 2010 gubernatorial opponent, Mufi Hannemann might be proud of.
According to a Honolulu Star-Advertiser article (pay-walled) today,
"The Sierra Club is saying that they want to protect people who cheat. It's astounding to me, absolutely astounding," the governor told reporters at the state Capitol. "We're trying to do something serious here. We're trying to say that we want to move to alternative and renewable energy, and we want to do it in a pono way. The fact that some people are trying to take advantage — and threaten the entire system that allows us to provide incentives for people who are doing things the right way, the correct way, the pono way.
Cheat? Serious? Pono way? There's clearly no ambiguity in the law that allows for the multiple credits. So is flouting the law okay just because it will result in your desired policy outcome?
But if that's a little sleazy, try this little bit of "haole go home"... from one haole to another.
"Now maybe the Sierra Club does that kind of thing on the mainland, but this is Hawaii. If people are cheating and gaming the system and preventing other people from taking advantage of what is legitimately there to be done... And when some people cheat and put in systems that are doubled or tripled or whatever they do in order to pretend that they need more than one system, that takes away from the capacity of honest people to do things honestly. It is an insult to the people of Hawaii to say that in order for us to get alternative energy, we have to shut our eyes to cheaters."
Gaming the system? Pretend that they need more than one system? Is he intimating that it's dishonest for honest people to take the credits the law allows to fully power their homes? Is that cheating?
No. "Cheating" is when you overestimate your political skills and fail to get the legislature to change the law so as to restrict the number of tax credits you can take... and then decide to illegally pass administrative rules that conflict with the law.
Yes- we know you're not a lawyer, Neil. But you've been a legislator long enough to know that you can't pass a rule administratively to negate a law you don't like.
As matter of fact you've blown a lot of hot air recently trying to tell us that the administration cannot reverse Act 55- the legislative measure that created the public Lands Development Corporation (PLDC)- by abolishing it through the administrative rules you're trotting out, saying only the legislature can change what they created.
We have the feeling we're not alone in being fed up with this business of having to determine which side of your mouth you're using to attack your former "pals."
Friday, December 7, 2012
EAT THEM UP, YUM: We who follow politics have, over the years, gleaned one irrefutable maxim- people are idiots who, with the right marketing, will vote for the now-proverbial turd sandwich as long as they can be convinced that the accompanying condiments are tasty and attractive.
Of course it isn't news to the advertising mavens who, through focus-grouped group-think have perfected "you must have this turd" messaging.
As many have heard, people are knocking down their grandmothers to get a cuppa "Black Ivory"- the $500 a pound, $50 cup coffee that has made it's way through the digestive track of Thai Elephants,
As an Associated Press article today says:
In the lush hills of northern Thailand, a herd of 20 elephants is excreting some of the world's most expensive coffee.
Trumpeted as earthy in flavor and smooth on the palate, the exotic new brew is made from beans eaten by Thai elephants and plucked a day later from their dung. A gut reaction inside the elephant creates what its founder calls the coffee's unique taste.
Stomach turning or oddly alluring, this is not just one of the world's most unusual specialty coffees. At $1,100 per kilogram ($500 per pound), it's also among the world's priciest.
Why do we suspect that this little scam didn't just emanate from a carefully cultivated ancient tribal recipe but rather a meeting in an American board room that might have gone something like this:
Jones: Well Johnson you really screwed us, didn't you
Johnson: Whaddaya mean?
Jones: That coffee plantation in Thailand you invested in turns out to be right in the middle of the protected habitat of herd of freakin' elephants- and guess what?.. THEY LOVE TO EAT COFFEE BEANS. Our whole plantation is wiped out.
Johnson: How was I gonna know?
Jones: Well it doesn't matter now- the question is what are we gonna do about it. Anyone got any ideas?
Smith: Well, labor is cheap over there- why don't we get the natives to pick the beans out of the elephant droppings.
Williams: Yeah great- I'm sure people will drink that... not.
Smith: Well we're the experts- if we can convince people to eat the some of the crap we feed them now surely we can convince people that it's just as good as regular coffee, although we might have to charge a little less...
But "charge a little less" is blasphemy among the flimflamming ad-men and women. It this isn't the first time around the blockheads for this crowd. They know that if consumers won't buy that new-fangled one-size-fits-all wrench for $5. It's not that it's too expensive- it's that it's too cheap. People think, "Oh- if it's only five bucks it must be a cheap piece of crap." But if you raise the price to a nice round... oh, let's say $19.95 (act now and we'll throw in the steak knives), you'll sell a million.
Naturally the solution to Dumbo Drip problem follows suit.
Williams: We'll never get anywhere charging less- but if we convince them that this is special dung from special elephants that yields special coffee-that it's not just the same but in fact makes Crappacino in the universe- we can charge $10 a cup.
Smith: Not enough...
Williams: 20? 30?.. how 'bout 50?
Jones: Bingo! You're a genius Williams. These are the same morons that put "W" in office and actually reelected him- they'll certainly pay a premium for cafe-au-shit if we tell them to.
Tuesday, December 4, 2012
WHEEL OF MISFORTUNE: It's not as if it's unique to Kaua`i. The expression, "It's not what you know but who you know," wasn't coined in Lihu`e. It just seems like it sometimes.
While it's been that way since the island's haole sugar planters who comprised the Board of Supervisors appointed the mayor, under the current administration cronyism is not just the mothers' milk of our local politics but the very air it breathes.
That's why it so scrumptious to watch them eat their young as two leviathans (as it were) of local politics, Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. and Police Chief Darryl Perry, engage in one of those 1890's bare-knuckled, you-take-a-punch-I-take-a-punch boxing matches being staged over once-solid alliances that have turned inward on the body politic like antibodies rejecting a transplanted organ.
The battle over who has the right to discipline the chief of police, the mayor or the police commission, is not new. As a matter of fact the events that followed the last time a skirmish was fought (although it never went to court)- when in the late 90's Mayor Marianne Kusaka got Chief George Freitas' secretary to take away his gun and badge ostensibly because he gave his fiancee a ride in his official police vehicle- has led directly, in a strange karmic way, to today's standoff.
For those who have been doing a Rip Van Winkle recently, the commission vs mayor question came up earlier this year again when Perry allegedly ignored sexual harassment charges against one of his two assistant chiefs and coverup charges against the other. Carvalho felt he had to step in and suspend the chief because the county charter doesn't directly address who has the right to discipline the chief but does give him the right to discipline all department heads.
The court, in the person of former councilmember and now Circuit Court Judge Randall Valenciano, ruled in favor of the mayor, saying there was no ambiguity in the charter despite the fact that it says that the commission hires and fires the chief.
The commission is now reportedly appealing the ruling despite their promise, according to earlier reports, to let Valenciano decide without any appeal. And for some crazy reason (coming from
the person whose initials are MR) the county council has just voted to fund the appeal as they did with the original case.
But back to the chain of craters from Chiefs Freitas to Perry with a speed bump named Lum thrown in in between.
Readers of this space, and of course the book KPD Blue (see left rail) by former Honolulu Star-Bulletin Kaua`i Bureau Chief Anthony Sommer, know the story of how Perry coveted the Kaua`i chief job. He and his allies engineered their way to ousting Chief KC Lum- an "outsider" (as was Freitas) from Kansas City (despite his Asian ancestry) who wasn't about to give deference to the tradition of drug dealers and other assorted bad apples on the force.
This was known as "destroying morale"... no, really.
Those allies included Mayors Kusaka and, because he had no appetite for going up against the old boys network upon which the crony network relies, Mayor Bryan Baptiste when he took the county reins in 2002.
Although Baptiste had only one real crony- Bryan Baptiste- he saw the value others gave it and always used it to his advantage.
And included on the list of allies was, of course, County Council Chair Kaipo Asing, the paternalistic godfather of local government who saw to it that the Board of Ethics removed Lum on trumped up charges in order to grease the skid for putting Perry in the top spot.
That was the position that the GOBs (now GOBAGs since gender has little to do with who is and who is not a good old boy or girl these days) who felt the locally-born-and-raised Perry was cheated out of his rightful position when, after Freitas "retired" (with a reported $250,000 settlement/buy-out), two upstart police commissioners- Chair Michael Ching and Vice Chair Carol Furtado- decided that the only way to end the blatant corruption and moral ineptitude described in KPD Blue was to appoint an "outsider", Lum, who had served for many years on the force.
Bad move guys. Who knew? (Answer: everybody but them).
So when Baptiste ate himself into a deadly heart-attack (and actually tried to cover-up his own death for two or three days), Carvalho stepped into a county where Perry was the new god of "raised morale" in the department. And, in a "my crony is your crony and your crony is my crony" move, he appointed all Perry supporters to the already pro-Perry commission that had helped engineer the ouster of Lum, Ching and Furtado... although she actually resigned after demanding a public "trial" in front of the ethics board where the case against all three was then seen by all to be the politically-based purge it really was all along.
Carvalho has always played the crony system for all it was worth. And it has worked for him. Those who support and even fall on their sword for him, and past purveyors of the system, get rewarded with life-long, high-paying, county department head or deputy jobs, like the recently-in-the-news Janine Rapozo... but that's another story for another time.
The very last thing Carvalho thought he would have to worry about was a renegade police commission because he never saw the conflict with Perry coming. But when he was put in a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" position when he was told of Perry's alleged coverup of the harassment charges that had gone to the EEOC already, he chose to protect himself from the potential public outcry over a coverup of the sexual harassment charges against the chief, who apparently tried to intimidate the complainant.
So here we are- the police commissioners, when pushed to show their true allegiance, chose Perry, leaving Carvalho with his pants down and his you-know-whats exposed and swingin' in the breeze (of public opinion anyway)... exactly what he had hoped to avoid.
To say "what goes around comes around" is an understatement and it all leaves those of us looking for a good chuckle being rewarded for our patience.
We imagine Lum, Ching and Furtado- and of course Sommer- are similarly amused.