Monday, September 15, 2008


DIGGIN’ IN THE CESSPOOL: A few light bulbs went on when the inner machinations of the nepotism and cronyism in Kaua`i county government were revealed as never before at last week’s council meeting after a little known recent ploy by the council came to fruition.

Trying to find out exactly how and why the county hires people has been a mystifying process for as long as the Kaua`i has had a government, especially in the mammoth Department of Public Works and more so in its Solid Waste Division.... that and why they always seem to be incompetent

Threatened council audits and investigations have been aborted attempts at accountability for 10 years although most suspected what exposition of the scheme would reveal..

But during this year’s budget discussions the council finally included in the ordinance a requirement that, when the administration changes a council-funded position to another job, they must at least notify the council.

And the first such transfer was contained in a brief communication (2008-256) requesting a “reallocation” of the position of a “Solid Waste Program Assistant (SWPA)” to a position for a “Senior Account Clerk”.

Solid Waste’s Personnel Director Crystal Fujikawa, flanked by Personnel Director Mel Fernandez, sat before the council and was asked to explain why they were asking for a change a mere three months after they requested the SWPA in the budget that the council approved..

Fujikawa explained that since the SWPA had left the job- although she amazingly couldn’t remember when- this change was a “downward reallocation” to an “entry level” position, raising some eyebrows and objections, especially from the Council Vice Chair, mayoral candidate Mel Rapozo and his ally Shaylene Iseri Carvalho.

“We just budgeted that position” said Iseri. And knowing how badly the Solid Waste Division have been in need of expertise she wondered aloud why personnel didn’t recruit for and fill the position instead of hiring just a clerk.

What Fujikawa said next reveled the true nature of cronyism in Kaua`i government and showed exactly how powerful the mayor is in terms of patronage even though legally he or she only gets to hire department heads.

According to Fujikawa when a county position opens up the first thing they do is to try to see if there is a current county employee with the required expertise who wants to fill it. Nothing wrong with that, as all councilmembers agreed.

But then, if there is no county employee with the specific qualifications who wants the job, instead of trying to recruit someone qualified to fill the position from those on the island or, if not, elsewhere- one who might be able to, as Rapozo said, “hit the ground running”- the county simply eliminates the skilled position and downgrades it to fit the qualifications of the employee they want to promote or hire.

And, if necessary they’ll even make it an entry level job to accommodate someone’s auntie or uncle... or campaign supporter.

And while this type of decision is at the discretion of the department head it’s the mayor who gives- or can instantly take away- the department heads their job.

According to Fujikawa it usually takes at least a year or two to “train” the new person, assuming they have the ability to learn the new job in the first pace.

In the case of the SWPA the job requires at least a year of solid waste experience. Give how important such a position is- especially with the solid waste crisis in the county being such that it caused the approval of another reluctant expansion of the Kekaha landfill at the same meeting- the council funded it in a budget line item.

And if not for the new notification law, as in past years the council and the public would never have known about the plans to hire a clerk instead.

Rapozo was livid. “So we don’t even try to find out if there’s someone on the island that’s qualified to take the job?” he asked. “That makes no sense.”

“They do this so they can pick someone they want that doesn’t have the requirements.” he concluded.

Iseri was equally aghast at the revelation as she wondered aloud if the system is such that, someone applies, they are told they’re not qualified and then they lower the standard for the position so someone else can get the job even though they’re not qualified and can't actually do the job.

“It’s a very unfair process for the pubic that does want county jobs” said Iseri.

Council Chair Jay Furfaro was equally if not more outraged because it happened to someone in his family who applied for a skilled planning position was and told she was unqualified. Now, with the same qualifications, she works in that same area of expertise on Maui.

But this is certainly nothing new for anyone who has been paying attention over the years.

Glenn Mickens came up to the hot seat Wednesday to tell the story of Troy Tanigawa, current head of our Solid Waste Division. Back in the adolescent years of our solid waste crisis in the mid 90’s he was the young relative of a big supporter of then Mayor Maryanne Kusaka.

When Kusaka took over from former mayor, now councilperson and mayoral candidate JoAnn Yukimura, one of her first moves was to fire Yukimura’s solid waste people who had put together a solid waste management plan and were just ready to implement it after having to take two years off from implementation due to Hurricane `Iniki.

Kusaka had convinced the council to move from “line item” budgeting to a “program based” budget allowing her to shift around finds within departments willy-nilly. And one shift was to put the young, unskilled, untrained Tanigawa in charge of the Solid Waste Division where he remains today.

Famed Kaua`i activist Ray Chuan used to refer to Tanigawa as one of Kusaka’s “chosen people- the untouchables” as he railed against Troy’s appointment and bumbling incompetence at council meetings for years.

Finally Kusaka agreed, not that she would fill the position with someone competent but, that she would “send Troy back to school” and teach him how to do the job... while he remained in the position..

And of course she never did this but Tanigawa has remained in the position for the last 14 years throughout the Baptiste administration too. And so of course we are now not just ankle or waist deep in rubbish but up to our eyeballs, all under Tanigawa.

We can only hope for someone who will clean out the barn when the new mayor takes over in November. Many assume that will be the case under Rapozo or Yukimura. But if you like things the way they are Bernard Carvalho can be counted on to keep the same people under the same patronage system to stay in office for 10 years and hiring in his own cronies as is the tradition.

Of course if the proposal for a “county manager” system gets some wings over the next two years as letter-to-the-editor writer Larry Arruda says in today’s local paper, that may not be the case.

We’ll leave you with his words.

Even as much as 15 to 20 years ago, many times while visiting here at home on Kaua`i, I would mention to my parents or to friends that I would like to come home and work for the county. Their response to me was always the same, “You gotta know somebody to get in.”

However, I’m sure that all of the council realize that anything and everything that was said will not change anything.

After watching Kaua`i Council meetings for almost six years, it is very obvious to me that the County Council very seldom has any power and any say so over the administration and/or staff. There is no continuity, and because of that, there is no accountability.

After working for a very organized city in California for 30 years, I can guarantee that this would not happen if the County of Kauai’s was governed under a county manager type of government.

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