Wednesday, October 15, 2008


A SWIFT KICK IN THE CANINES: There’s another little turd of trickery for Kaua`i to swallow on this November’s ballot, this one courtesy of the ethically challenged county council and designed to blow a gaping hole in our conflict-of-interest laws.

Kaua`i always had a toothless tiger of a conflict law in our charter in Section 20.04.. Though it required “(a)ny elected official, appointed officer, employee, or any member of a board or commission” to declare conflicts of interest, once they declared them, the member of a board could deliberate and vote on the matter.

This led to beaucoup scandals- some going back to the pre-statehood days involving literally hundreds of self-serving votes. The charter allowed the crook involved to claim “I did noting wrong- I broke no laws” when they approved their own legislation to benefit themselves, their families, their businesses or organizations.

Two years ago the people gave the law, not just dentures but tooth implants by forcing the conflicted members to recuse themselves from deliberating and voting upon those matters.

The council though has been in a tizzy since then in trying to not to meet the terms after years of personal and professional enrichment, even getting one of those secret county attorney opinions on how to avoid complying with the new law.

And now after finding out they couldn’t get around it- and knew they couldn’t reverse the new dentition in an open and forthright way- they’re trying to restrict the actual definition of a conflict out of existence

The council has decided the rules are too strict and seeks to weaken them but, as was done with the executive session proposal we discussed Monday, they have made it appear they are actually strengthening the law.

The question you’ll see on the ballot says:
Shall an elected or appointed officer or employee or member of a board or commission not be allowed to participate in matters pending before them where the member or any member of his immediate family has a personal financial interest or an organization in which they occupy a leadership position has a direct financial interest?

That actually is a pretty good description of what the current law does. But what is actually being changed- and is hidden from the voting pubic- is the definitions of “immediate family” and “leadership”.

The current Charter provisions says

Any elected or appointed officer or employee who possesses or acquires such interest as might reasonably tend to create a conflict with his duties or authority shall make a full disclosure to his appointing authority, to the council, in the case of a member of the council, or to the board or commission on which he serves at any time such conflict becomes apparent.

Any member of the council or any board or commission who knows he or any member of his immediate family has direct financial interest, or that he or any member of his immediate family occupies a position of leadership in an organization which has a direct or no financial interest in any proposal pending before the body of which he is a member shall disclose such interest to such body.

But the proposed wording deletes that and substitutes this:

Any elected official, appointed officer, employee, or any member of a board or commission who possesses or acquires such interest as might reasonably tend to create a conflict with his duties or authority, or who is an owner, officer, executive director or director of an organization, or whose member of his immediate family, which includes parents, siblings, spouse or children, is an owner, officer, executive director or director of an organization in any matter pending before him shall make full disclosure of the conflict of interest and shall not participate in said matter.

The current law is broad so as to cover all circumstances of conflict and already includes members of the subject’s “immediate family”

But the new law would limit the definition of “immediate family” to “parents, siblings, spouse or children” only- no grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles or even in-laws or those who are hanai (raised by but not necessarily legally adopted), who are many times defined as part of immediate families, especially on Kaua`i and in Hawai`i

And the words “leadership of an organization” are actually in the current law as to the applicability of what relationships and connection constitute a conflict.

The new law restricts that to “an owner, officer, executive director or director of an organization”. only.

Glaringly missing is the word “employee”

This actually means that if you work for someone about to get money from the council you can still vote and now you don’t even have to declare a conflict of interest, even if the grant directly pays your salary.

And the same apparently goes for the conflicts of your in-laws and your beloved tutu. And, if you’re not legally married it apparently excludes your “significant other”

This sneaky little diminution of applicability may be directly as a result of a scandal, reported here earlier this year, where Councilman Mel Rapozo’s business was awarded a county contract to serve outstanding warrants..

Rapozo actually voted to appropriate the money for the contract. It was a “bid” contract and since he was the only bidder, everyone was “shocked, shocked” he got the gig.

But although the fact that he bid on the contract was certainly a disincentive for anyone to bid against him, the ethically challenged Kaua`i Ethics Board, some of whose shenanigans we recapped on Monday, cleared him of charges of a conflict of interest.

This proposal would allow them to not just give money to their businesses but their pet organizations if they avoid the owner/director designation. If the amendment passes, a person who raises money for, let’s say, the Chamber of Commerce or a trade organization who is not one of the forbidden could appropriate money or designate grants to themselves.

And if the organization designates their top paid managerial post as a “general manager” or some other label like “chief cook and bottle washer”- in fact any title that is not “executive director”- they aren’t apparently included either.

It also does not include past officers/directors, allowing a councilperson to step down from their conflicted interest for a month or so while a bill winds it way through the council only to return to the organization when the bill passes.

And again the wording of the question is deceptive- just like the amendment that would actually allow the council to have more secret meetings while trying to make it seem like they will “conform with” the state Sunshine Law.

Instead of specifying the new looser restriction it actually depicts the current law in a deceptive and in fact fraudulent attempt to trick people into voting for it.

Anyone reading this conflict-of interest amendment on the ballot- or even some trying to read the convoluted MEGO (my eyes glaze over) explanation and pros and cons that were drawn up by the council and their employee, the County Clerk, would think a yes vote would mean strengthening the conflict of interest provisions, not watering them down as it actually does.

It took many citizens many years- and it took a “people’s” Charter Commission in ’06 as opposed to the current crony-stacked crop- to finally put the teeth into the county’s conflict of interest law.

Don’t let this sucker punch by the council knock most of them out. Vote no. As a famous fool said, “fool me twice, well you don’t get fooled again.”.

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