Monday, April 6, 2009


CHASING ANOTHER TALE: This week’s Kaua`i Board of Ethics (BOE) meeting promises to be more of the same- a few hours of attempts to act unethically, cover-up past lapses of ethics by board members and hide everything else they do from the public, along with yet another attempt to strip the county charter’s ethics provisions of it’s conflict-of-interest section.

Testimony by designated BOE watchdog and “nitpicker” Horace Stoessel arrived in our inbox this morning and it’s too important to let it wait for later this week, if only so that perhaps it will motivate some to clear their calendar for this Thursday morning and show up, preferably with pitchforks and torches.

The first thing Stoessel addresses is a little item at the end of the agenda- an “executive session” closed to the public which is listed on the agenda as

Discussion and consultation with the County Attorney regarding the process for releasing County Attorney opinions and is there a need for consistency throughout the County.

Horace wrote:

The primary fact confronting the public for months, now stretching into years, is that county agencies are not releasing opinions even though the authority and responsibility for releasing them resides with client agencies. Indeed, focusing on process and the need for uniformity has served as a prime excuse for not releasing opinions and not holding open discussions.

“Months” is an understatement since the refusal to acknowledge any public function to the office of the county attorney (CA) goes back to the beginning of Mayor Bryan Baptiste’s administration when he appointed Lani Nakazawa to the post and she redefined the job to eliminate any public component and only serve her “clients”- defined as county government officials and personnel.

At first that meant that any release of official written “opinions” had to be through the entity that asked for and got the opinion.

And that was, at first, routinely done.

But with the election of now former Councilmembers Mel Rapozo and Shaylene Iseri Carvalho things changed in most part due to two related matters- an “investigation” of the Kaua`i Police Department the two cooked up and the council approved (but never officially executed after the council used the BOE to purge Police Chief KC Lum) and a matter known as the infamous “ES-177” where Rapozo. a former scandal-plagued KPD officer apparently said way too much behind closed doors about police matters and the then-upcoming investigation.

This led to a full clamp down on public release of all correspondence- even formal opinions on matters of law- from the CA’s office to the council.

Whereas before opinions were either released by the CA or by a councilmember if he or she originally sought it, an informal policy was used to release the opinions only after a “council approval”, where a majority vote was used at least once.

When Councilmember Tim Bynum came on board and tried to get the council to vote on the release of some of these opinions- as most councilmembers publicly promised to do- Chair Kaipo Asing and then member, now Vice Chair, Jay Furfaro claimed that before the vote there had to be a written formal policy for how the vote would be conducted and what percentage the affirmative vote had to be- just a majority, two-thirds or even unanimous.

This little ploy has now become the “de rigor” delaying tactic, not just for the council but for all boards and commissions on the island, This has especially benefited the BOE which has not just withheld opinions but constantly flouted the sunshine and open records laws, even codifying illegal activity in their administrative rules.

But that wasn’t enough of a delaying scheme to stand up forever and now, after a couple of years of playing Alphonse and Gaston the BOE came under pressure to simply enact a policy for the release of CA opinions.

Enter John Isobe, director of boards and commissions, a post created by a charter amendment in 2006 supposedly to oversee and assist commissioners and board members in fulfilling their duties.

Isobe- a long time entrenched member of the revolving-door old boys and girls network- has used his position to make sure that those citizen members did things the way they’ve always done things and not rock the boat.

In service of continuing the delay, Isobe has suggested that an individual board or commission should wait on creating a policy for CA releases until, as the agenda for ES-3 says, the question “is there a need for consistency throughout the County?” is answered.

The agenda promises to rehash an even more absurd but related matter- the attempt by the BOE to gut the county charter of the conflict of interest provisions in Section 20.02(D) of the county charter that prohibits board and commission members from representing private interest before the county, including of course boards and commissions... including the county council.

Seems some of the BOE members are still in blatant conflict of that pesky little provision.

Apparently is wasn’t enough of a rebuke to both the BOE and the charter commission when voters overwhelmingly rejected dropping the charter provision in 2008, because on the agenda this week is this item:

Letter of March 25, 2009 from Charter Review Commission requesting input from the Board of Ethics as to whether Section 20.05 D (2) of the Kaua`i County Charter should be amended and, if yes, suggestions on how it should be amended.

For years the 20.02(D) conflict provisions were just ignored by the well connected who routinely went before the council and county boards and commissions seeking, for example, things like zoning or even grants of money from the council or development projects’ approval permits from the planning commission, while serving on other boards of commissions.

But in 2007-8 a member of the charter commission, former state senator and attorney Jonathan Chun, was routinely appearing before the council representing the Board of Realtors on the vacation rental bill before the council at the time.

Chun then made a fatal error of judgment when he actually asked the BOE for a ruling on whether he was in violation of 20.02(D)

Stoessel’s testimony tells the story from there in what he calls “The Case Of 20.02D”

The issue of the County Attorney opinion related to Jonathan Chun’s request for an advisory opinion has been outstanding for more than a year. It may represent the only time the Board of Ethics has sought a legal opinion before issuing an advisory opinion. It is also interesting that the Board issued an advisory opinion involving similar circumstances just three months previously in which the Board felt no need to ask for a legal opinion or to meet in executive session.

Once the Board emerged from executive session in March, 2008 a motion was made and approved to allow Mr. Chun to continue the activities referenced in his request for an advisory opinion. The motion as approved failed to meet even the minimum test for public disclosure because it cited no statutory basis for the decision, instead making a vague and misleading reference to information in the Code of Ethics and the Charter.

The Board also refused to release the legal opinion it purportedly used to justify its decision. When I asked the Board to justify keeping the opinion secret, the chairman replied, “I do not intend to answer that, Horace. It could be that I don’t know; it could be that I just don’t wish to answer that question.”

But the BOE’s utter refusal to enforce the law- or state why- was only the beginning.

Chun wasn’t the only one engaged in this practice.

In fact then BOE Chair, now Vice Chair Mark “Mother” Hubbard was a vice president at land baron Grove Farm and he and his brethren- many also serving on boards and commissions- routinely made requests from the county council and administrative boards and commissions on behalf of themselves and/or clients.

BOE member Judy Lenthall is the Executive Director of the Kaua`i Food Bank which just received another grant from the county council this year after she appeared before them hat in hand.

Oh and by the way, the BOE has also cleared Furfaro, Asing, Rapozo and other council members from potential conflicts in the past.

So in appreciation for the clean bill of health for Chun’s apparently “dead on arrival” clearance, Chun turned around and, as a member of the charter commission, put a measure on the ballot to just eliminate that pesky 20.02(D) from the charter.

Stoessel’s testimony takes it up from the Chun decision:

In succeeding months the Board encouraged the Charter Commission to offer a charter amendment exempting all county personnel from having to comply with 20.02D rather than exempting only board/commission members. However, the commission restricted the scope of its proposed amendment to board/commission members and the amendment was then rejected by the voters in November, 2008. Their rejection revived questions about the Board’s handling of 20.02D and the March, 2008 legal opinion.

For my part as a responsible member of the public, I am still waiting for the Board to respond directly to the formal argument I offered in February, 2008 in support of basing a response to Jonathan Chun on 20.02D and to additional information I have since cited in support of that argument. The public has been prevented from further commenting directly on the Board’s actions by the Board’s failure to cite a statutory basis for its decision in the Chun case and its refusal to release the legal opinion.

The Board postponed discussion of 20.02D at the March meeting, and seemed to me to indicate that both 20.02D and the March, 2008 opinion would appear on the agenda for April. Did I miss something, or was I justified in being surprised that neither appears on the April agenda?

If it is within the scope of ES-3 (or the last item under BUSINESS), I would like to see the Board vote to release the March, 2008 legal opinion now. Failing that, I ask the Board to place on the May agenda a vote on releasing the opinion and a discussion of 20.02D. In view of the fact that the Board’s last formal statement regarding 20.02D was an expressed desire to exempt all county personnel from having to comply with it, I would like to hear what effect the November vote has had on the thinking of the Board.

So would we. If you’d like to know too go on down there and ask them.

The BOE meeting is at 9:00 A.M. this Thursday, April 9, 2009 in the Liquor Conference Room on the first floor of the Mo`ikeha Building in Lihu`e (the complex where the planning commission meets and where you get your car registered and drivers’ license renewed).

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