Friday, April 17, 2009


PUPPY LOVE: If we had a dollar (inflated from the traditional nickel) every time a federal, state or local legislator spoke the words “these tough economic times” as they prepare their budgets this year, they wouldn’t be.

But here on Kaua`i that doesn’t seem to stop the county council from extending the financial teat to every Tom, Dick and Harry Inc. coming in for suckle.

The developer and tourism industry crowd all seem to be adamant free marketeers and liaise-faire zealots until it comes time to line up for a government handout. Social safety net food programs for keiki, kupuna and cripples be damned- the adults at the C of C must be served- and served first.

Exhibit one- this past Wednesday’s council committee meetings.

The first recipient rat hole was the new “Kaua`i Marathon” coming up in September . Now no one is really complaining much about having a marathon on Kaua`i except those who will have to negotiate around the closed off Kalaheo and Lawa`i back roads that day or the residents- who were never asked- who apparently won’t even be able to leave their driveways.

The big question is why the heck with all the corporate sponsorship do they need a Kaua`i County Economic Development grant to do it?

Well you might ask Mr. Tourism, Economic Development Committee Chair Dickie Chang or his buddy Mr. Hotel Executive, Vice-Chair Jay Furfaro who ran the meeting in Chang’s absence... neither of whom were shy about taking the council’s time- and TV budget- to promote the event with a half hour infomercial at Wednesday’s meeting.

Before that they spent another good sized chunk of their televising budget, as they do every week, to give out "certificates"- all fully captioned- while patting themselves on the back for honoring this week’s recipients- four Small Business Administration prize winners.

Of course there’s always plenty of money to televise these little personal vote buying ventures but none to televise the current budget hearings,

The “winners” included the small business “journalist of the year”, the guy who does PR for the Chamber of Commerce, and the Woman Business Owner of the Year, a defense contractor intermediary, plus someone from the Kaua`i Economic Development Board for their apparently highly unsuccessful Economic Development Plan... all recipients of government largess to promote somebody’s business.

Back to Chang whose “Wala`au” TV program is sponsoring and directly financially benefiting from the marathon. Unbelievably enough, he not only hasn’t recused himself from discussion of the marathon as the law seems to require but actually he put this free “ad” for it on the agenda too.

With Chang “under the weather”, Furfaro and the rest of the councilmembers gushed over another the Chang-sponsored commercial, this one for the new taxpayer-sponsored tourism promotion web site put together by the local newspaper and linked through their web site.

To hear “The Garden Island (TGI)” newspaper Publisher Mark Lewis talk about his creation was to take off on a flight of fancy that the councilmembers were all too happy accommodate.

Lewis started out by claiming that TGI’s KauaiWorld site is the “most powerful web site on the island” at first claiming an absurd 97,000 individual hits a day, which later turned out to be the yearly figure- a paltry readership number that even this tiny little site approximates and exceeds with our daily e-mailing list.

Lewis- with Kaua`i Visitor Bureau chief Sue Kanoho, who cooked up this little boondoggle, at his side- then went on to tout the exposure the taxpayer-created and supported site will provide.

Apparently it’s not only going to be on the GI web site but at all 14 of owner “Lee Enterprises’” newspaper web sites. Quite a coup until you find out that the biggest market is in Tucson, Arizona and some of the other biggies are Bismarck, North Dakota, Butte, Montana and Sioux City, Iowa.

Still Lewis had the council seemingly awed by the wondrous site to behold and its nearly obsolete, cookie-cutter format and cluttered design... and it’s link from the paper’s “home page” with little box way down on the extreme right where it’s off the side of the screen for many browsers.

As anyone who has visited the paper’s web site knows it’s pretty pitiful to begin with. But as any regular reader can tell you there’s nothing much on the home page that isn’t available all over the web, which is why most people go straight to the local news page.

And guess what?- the subject site isn’t even linked to the “local news” or any of the content pages.

The site itself doesn’t really promote much of anything on Kaua`i except for 120 large businesses all the way from hotels to golf courses. Oh, shoved in the middle of a string of buttons for things like “hotels and lodging, vacation rentals, weddings, luaus, golf and dining” there is a link to something called “attractions” which lists a few beaches and such on a separate page.

There was no word from Lewis or Kanoho as to how these businesses are selected or whether there is a charge for posting them or even the customary “per click-through” charge for this taxpayer supported advertising. And the council didn’t even bother to ask.

And so how successful is the site? Lewis admitted- or actually he presented it like it was a lot- all of 2000 visitors have clicked it on so far.

All the specifics aside the propriety of a newspaper and government- especially in a discretionary monetary partnership- is ethically unconscionable. But not apparently at TGI where they do the bidding of the “old boys network” on a daily basis.

Well the councilmembers were extremely pleased with the whole thing and as usual patted themselves on the back for spending our money on it even though, as with all the other money they shove into off-island-based big businesses’ pockets through advertising, there’s absolutely no accountability and no valid mechanism to check if it’s working or, as we suspect, is just another rat hole of a boondoggle.

But we can be sure that at least one person is getting his – or our- money’s worth. Chang, who put these two promotional items on the agenda, has been rewarded with buttons of his own that link to his Wala`au Web site.

In a recently passed charter amendment anyone who has financial interest in any agenda item before the council is required to not just disclose that fact but now must actually recuse him or herself from discussing and voting on the matter.

The only question for Chang- who actually put the name of his TV program “Wala`au” on the ballot next to his name and then tried to claim that was his name because people yell out “Wala`au” when they see him- is whether he put these items on the agenda because he’s oblivious to the law or simply flouting it.

Has the master of personal promotion gone too far? Apparently not for Kaua`i where no one seems to care and no doubt will keep re-electing Chang and his fellow interest-conflicted, greedy little baby bovines until we, the milk-cows, come home.

Note- We apologize for the delay in presenting the final report in our “Unethical Culture” series on the Kaua`i Board of Ethics. If Time Warner cable’s ever gives us reliable internet service again- they’ve been out almost all day for the last two days- we’ll be able to finalize our research and links. We’ll try again next week- Ed.

No comments: