Monday, February 2, 2009


I GOT YA ‘QUALIFICATIONS’ RIGHT HEA: Despite a valiant challenge from rookie Councilperson Lani Kawahara the man who allegedly and arguably was one of those most responsible for facilitating and allowing the inaction and cover-up leading to the Ka Loko dam disaster has received council approval to fill an “environmental” slot on the planning commission.

Hartwell Blake, who served as Mayor Maryanne Kusaka’s County Attorney during the “grubbing and grading” scandal and hearings in the late 90’s and early ‘00’s, was unanimously approved by the council last Wednesday despite Blake’s complicity in Kusaka’s squelching of complaints against Jimmy Pflueger and Blake’s legal support of the Department of Pubic Works’ (DPW) contention that they couldn’t gain access to inspect Pflueger’s properties.

As County Attorney Blake testified before the council numerous times in support of Kusaka’s and the DPW’s positions at the time that there was nothing they could do and had no right to go in and inspect without permission from Pflueger.

Kusaka recently testified before a grand jury that returned a murder indictment against Pflueger and it is believed – and has been reported- that she most likely received some form of immunity in doing so.

That followed many reports of her attempts to obstruct justice and ban DPW’s inspectors from looking into complaints against Pflueger and against developer Tom McCloskey who was also being investigated for grubbing and grading violations on his north shore properties at the time.

Kaua`i has a system unique in the islands for selecting planning commissioners, with two each coming from the environmental, labor and business communities as well as one “at-large”. according to the county charter.

Blake’s nomination to fill an “environmental” slot was a real head scratcher for Kawahara who questioned not his integrity or ability to do a good job as a commissioner but his environmental credentials.

“Hartwell is a very good man- no one can argue with that” said Kawahara saying she had no doubt that he sees himself as an environmentalist after he cited his Hawaiian upbringing and values

But Kawahara questioned Blake’s credentials .”by education, training occupation or experience” as the charter requires, since he had never worked with or been a member of any of the organized environmental groups or even worked for any environmental causes in the community.

She also said she was concerned that neither Blake nor Mayor Bernard Carvalho who nominated Blake had apparently reached out to any environmental groups or individual environmentalists on the island in seeking someone for the open environmental slot.

“I think it’s important to represent or at least be aware of what others in the environmental community are concerned about” she said “If you go by the component of ‘participation with environmental groups’ there’s not a strong connection there.”

Kawahara urged Blake and the mayor to “reach out” to those in the environmental community on the island.

Others on the council seemed to have a lot less concern saying basically that they were satisfied that because Blake is a “native Hawaiian” his “values” as such make him an environmentalist.

Councilperson Tim Bynum excused any complicity in the Ka Loko matter by saying that as an attorney “you have to do what your client wants you to do”..

Councilperson Darryl Kaneshiro said he was a rancher and farmer and said he considers himself an environmentalist although he is not a member of any group.

Councilperson Jay Furfaro pointed to Blake’s participation in Pohaku Nishimitzu’s hula halau saying that Blake surely learned about stewardship of the land, the Konohiki system and Hawaiian values regarding fishing from Nishimitzu.

Chair Kaipo Asing said that though others are free to disagree, the way he interprets the charter Blake qualifies to fill the environmental opening.

During the discussion no councilmember offered any example of who exactly wouldn’t be an environmentalist or what they would have to do to not qualify.

The matter of Blake’s involvement in giving Kusaka legal basis’s for suppressing investigations of Pflueger and McCloskey was actually raised at the meeting by council watchdog and now-retired DPW employee Joe Rosa who directly accused Blake of complicity in the events leading to Ka Loko dam failure.

“All this could have been stopped by Mr. Hartwell Blake” said Rosa. “The inspector (who was looking into the matter) quit because (Blake) wouldn’t back him up.

“If he were an environmentalist he could have stopped all that illegal grubbing and grading” Rosa alleged pointing at the council and saying “I don’t want you to forget, because I remember”.

Reached by phone this weekend Kawahara said she wasn’t aware of Blake’s alleged involvement in the grubbing and grading matters that dominated headlines for years before the Ka Loko dam failure took seven lives.

In explaining why in the end she voted to confirm Blake, Kawahara said she had been willing to “go to bat” for the organized environmental groups on the island if they had thought perhaps there might have been people who would better represent them than Blake.

But she said, to her surprise, after calling many of them across the island none would step forward to oppose Blake’s nomination or offer to serve themselves.

Blake previously served on the commission in the 90’s before the “slotting” system was passed into law. He will be officially sworn in at the next planning commission meeting a week from tomorrow.

1 comment:

Lani Kawahara said...

Hi Andy,
Just to clarify one point in your blog: Several people thought they might be interested when asked the hypothetical question -All of them were gracious and thoughtful. This was just an exploratory thing on my part. We have very good people in the environmental community and I will advocate for them when I can. In this case, it was a sort of "practice run", because the nominee had been named. I live and learn...Need to get ahead of that process.

Lani T. Kawahara