Friday, October 1, 2010


SNIPE HUNT: When it comes to playing the middle ground in the old “corruption vs. incompetence” game, the Kaua`i Department of Public Works (DPW) has had years of practical experience in befuddling the naturally befuddled county council.

If we had a dollar every time we had to ask of the county engineer and his underlings “are you crooked or just stupid” we’d be able to afford a new computer to replace the 2001 dinosaur on which we do our daily hunt and peck.

So it comes as no surprise that request for the scheduled executive session (ES) on the plastic bag ban ordinance that we wrote about Wednesday was a result of the usual inability of the DPW to do their job.

Although County Attorney (CA) Al Castillo was his usual cryptic self Wednesday in requesting an ES to tell the council about some sort of imagined liability contained in the current ordinance, the council, amazingly enough- refused to go behind closed doors to discuss what most called pubic policy.

But through questioning the reason Castillo was there in the first place became obvious- despite having a year and a half to promulgate Chapter 91 administrative rules to flesh out the details of the ban, the DPW hadn’t even begun the process and were now arguing about what the “intent” of the bill was instead of just reading and implementing it.

Actually, as member of the public pointed out, the intent of the ordinance was actually written into the bill which say it’s designed to move people to use cloth bags.

The council ended up “requesting the presence” of a DPW representative at next week’s pubic works committee meeting to explain why they haven’t begun the process that usually takes a few months, considering that the ordinance takes effect next January.

Part of the problem comes from the fact that rather than banning plastic bags entirely the ordinance was designed allow “biodegradable” plastic bags specifically banning ones that contain “polymers derived from fossil fuels”.

But, in fact, as it stands today nobody makes plastic bags that don’t contain fossil fuel polymers. And there is no standard as to what a “biodegradable plastic bag” is anyway which is why the council came up with their own definition of what they were banning.

We suspect that Castillo’s “liability” problem is that while the bill allows the use of certain plastic bags it makes it impossible to obtain bags that meet the standard.

It would be like allowing the use of cell phones while driving but only if they were made on the moon. Although someday there may be some moon-manufactured cell phone it ain’t gonna happen an time soon.

We also suspect that this was precisely why the supermarkets and the Chamber of Commerce lobbied so hard- and successfully- to allow for “biodegradable plastic”, knowing that there was no such thing and that they could come back close to the deadline and threaten a lawsuit with a CA that’s always doing everything he can to influence pubic policy when someone comes up with some cockamamie legal argument.

But, as we said, the fault really lies with the DPW which has shunned promulgating “ad rules” for years... sometimes decades.

We’re still waiting for the regulations for the infamous grubbing and grading (G&G) rules to flesh out the way they handle violations of the ordinance that was passed following the extensive “Developers Gone Wild” hearings in the late 90’s and early ’00’s.

At the time it became apparent to an astonished council that there was no official process for enforcing G&G violations and decisions were being made arbitrarily and capriciously... or not at all.

One of the problems in that was that DPW officials claimed they were unable to check out complaints of violations of the ordinance that was in place at the time. That conveniently allowed them to ignore violations at the instructions of then Mayor Maryann Kusaka who has been extensively alleged to have instructed the DPW to ignore violations by the likes of “friends of Maryanne” Jimmy Pflueger and Tom McCloskey.

Of course that led to the Ka Loko dam break and the county’s multi-million dollar settlement apparently for ignoring violations that led to it.

But guess what? Although the council included many things in the G&G bill itself that would normally be done through administrative rules they couldn’t really be expected to do it all,

They got guarantees from DPW that the rules would be done in six months from passage. And the last time we checked there still aren’t any.

The DPW was actually scheduled for a management audit more than once. In fact prior to that there was an aborted attempt at a charter section 3.17 council official investigation of the massive department.

Those half-hearted efforts- done only in response to public political pressure- eventually led to the establishment of the new Office of the County Auditor where, many hoped, the first order of business would be to look into the incompetence (or is it corruption?) of the DPW.

But as yet, it doesn’t even seem to appear on the radar screen of former Deputy County clerk and now Auditor, Ernie Passion.

The problem seems to come down to this attitude on the council that once they pass a new law they not only expect but are confident that the administration will, actually enforce it.

The fact that that is rarely the case has gotta make you ask whether the council too is corrupt or just incompetent in their administrative oversight role.

Either way it’s the public that has to suffer through it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Are you trying to get blackballed by the DPW over there?