Tuesday, December 15, 2009


LICKING WHERE ONLY THEY CAN: There aren’t a lot of legislators looking forward to next year, especially those who prepare an annual budget. Even those who fund administrative programs on a biennial basis are going to be rehashing the already hashed now that projected plummeting revenues have plunged beyond the predictions.

But here on Kaua`i when it comes to what the home viewer will and will not see it’s probably going to be another year in the dark when comes to the budget machinations the council will perform next spring.

Although last year for the first time the local newspaper’s Mike Levine attended and reported upon the highlights of the budget sessions, the cable-casting of these meetings- where the rubber meets the road and councilmembers must show their hands as to their funding priorities- has not itself been a budget priority.

As far as we can tell this year will be no different and you can bet that the excuse will be “the budget crunch” in terms of both the televising of this year’s sessions and the funding of those in 2011.

How convenient. The most contentious and telling council function- the one where they will inevitably disappoint many who expect funding and outrage others by funding questionable line times- will be done if not behind closed doors at least before draped cameras.

Funny how there’s no money for televising the budget sessions but there’s plenty for those self promotional, vote-grabbing, grin and grip, who’s your daddy and mommy, “council certificates”.

You see it every meeting- all of a sudden business stops and a gaggle of people fill the chambers while the council fawns over them, laughing and questioning them as to their accomplishments.

And when the tiddlywinks team wins third place in Honolulu it’s really a circus with each kid coming up listing not just their parents and siblings but their cousins and their uncles and their aunties.

And not only are these “awards” televised but their are fully captioned- at a cost of more than $200 an hour last time we were able to verify the amount.

At an average of about an hour per council meeting- sometimes, like last week, it’s over an hour, sometimes less- and 50 meetings a year that comes out to at least 50 hours- just enough to televise all the budget sessions.

Now no one is saying that the council should suspend giving out their certificates- even though sometimes it pushes the meeting over eight hours causing massive overtime for staff... a fact that the council uses to justify the recent shift in the scheduling of their meetings to 9 a.m. from the former 1:30 p.m. time slot, insuring people will be less likely to attend and testify.

But using taxpayer money to televise them and then using the lack of funds as an excuse to nix televising the budget sessions is a crass and ludicrous abuse of discretion that serves councilmembers at the expense of the public’s right to know what the council is doing with their money.

The purpose of televising the meetings is to allow the public to see the council at work, not an incumbency protection program designed to garner publicity and the votes of friends and families as well as the participants themselves.

So next time you see one of those certificates being presented just remember- there’s your budget sessions. And remember when, as expected, due to declining assessments the council resorts to raising the property tax rate to pay for all the stuff they stuffed into the budget, instead of watching them do it we were forced to watch the council make kissy-face with Mr. Pupule’s third-grade Christmas pageant participants.

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