Wednesday, June 10, 2009


DON’T LET GO, DON’T LET GO: Kaua`i has never been a hotbed of citizen participation when it comes to local government.

Even among the activist “usual suspects” most prefer to glom onto political issues that are state or even national in nature and if county government is involved they enter with a sense of helplessness as if approaching, if at all, an amorphous phagocyte ready to gobble them up dare they approach the monolithic blob.

Those of us who dare enter the labyrinth of the Minotaurs are steeled against its tentacles and though outrage is the coin of our realm it’s never a sure bet that our indignation will translate to community-wide ire.

How else do you explain why it took two years for Councilperson Tim Bynum to go public with the fact that councilmembers are not permitted to introduce legislation without the approval of the paternalistic hierarchy?

How else do you explain that it took another Councilperson Lani Kawahara to expose the lack of availability of public documents?

The trepidation Bynum and Kawahara felt over the months over openly challenging the status quo and leading up to last Wednesday’s challenge was only overcome after a last ditch effort at an end run around the beast that ended in humiliation and defeat.

For some reason this stab at the heart of our representational form of government has seemingly lit a spark if the daily letters to the editor of the local newspaper- which are now posted at the web site set up by Bynum and Kawahara- are any indication.

Today someone went a step further by anonymously posting an on-line petition - with 42 signatories as of press time- that reads:

We, the residents of Kaua`i, respectfully request County Council agenda time for public discussion on open government, including, but not limited to, proposals related to the following items:

1. Councilmember's access to the agenda;

2. The placement of public documents, including meeting minutes, on the County's website;

3. Equitable and timely circulation of council service documents;

4. General access to information by the public and Councilmembers.

But don’t expect the agenda for next Wednesday’s full council meeting to reflect public anger when it’s posted tomorrow- or any time in the near future, especially as long as the protestations are made from afar.

While it’s gratifying to see the outpouring of support for the two councilmembers who dared to speak up for the community it’s only a first step in reclaiming our local government.

Future steps must include focusing on the machinations of the power elite, learning their stonewalling and obfuscating ways and, especially, showing up when they meet and holding their feet to the fire on every item.

Beyond the issues Bynum and Kawahara have raised are issues involving the webcast and cablecasts of council meetings which could be sent out live at no extra cost with the flip of a switch. Others include demanding full descriptions of agenda items and a full reading of them at the meetings. Eventually we must demand to have live telephone and email testimony taken on all items as many jurisdictions across the country allow.

Even if this agenda-access issue is resolved favorably if people go back to sleep when it’s over and allow not just the council but the administration to twist and warp laws and rules to their own ends, we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves when the good guys on the council just give up- as many have done in the past- and “join ‘em” when they figure out the people won’t stand by their sides when they “fight ‘em”.

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