Friday, January 21, 2011


LOOK OUT KID, THEY KEEP IT ALL HID: During the decade or so we regularly attended council meetings there were generally three sets of attendees.

First were governmental apparatchiks who slept in the back, if possible under the air conditioner, until called on by the council.

Then there were the great unwashed- the clueless who wandered in because they heard something was up or they took a wrong turn at the elections office.

Finally there were the regulars- aka nitpickers- and the reporters who generally sat around acting like the unruly kids in the back or the classroom kibitzing, whispering, giggling, passing notes, chewing gum and generally making a mockery of the whole thing.

But they always had something that the others two groups lacked- a copy of the agenda.

The administration people didn’t really need one. They know what they’d been summoned for.

But for the great uninitiated novices sometime we’d grab a stack and walk amongst them calling “Program- getcha program heah. Can’t tell your bill without a program- program heah.”

The truth is that even with a “program” many were often left shaking their heads, unable to follow the meeting and find their issue before it whisked by, by which time it was too late and they were left asking “wha-wha-wha just happened?”

For those who try to follow the proceedings on TV it’s even worse. As “Esatiene” wrote today in the comment section of a totally unrelated article in the local newspaper:

Watching the HOIKE Channel a few days ago i was saddened to see our elected officals skim over financial "bills" and passing them as fast as possible w/ no mention how the money will be earmaked. Sewage and Wailua (county workers' private) Golf Course, was a combined $300,000 of taxpayors money. The county council looked like a table of thieves in a den distributing stolen loot (all sic).

And it’s no wonder. Rather than actually having to read many measures the council rules state:


(c) County Clerk. It shall be the duty of the County Clerk or an authorized representative, in addition to those duties prescribed by law:

(1) To read bills, resolutions, and other matters to the Council, if so required (emphasis added);

And for bills and resolutions the rules say


(h) Full oral readings of bills and resolutions are hereby waived and may be by title and/or number only unless a full reading is requested by any of the members present (empasis added).

As Esatiene noted many bills go through their four required appearances- going through the first reading, the public hearing, the committee meeting and the final reading- and are passed with nary a word other than the perfunctory reading by the clerk of the minimalist information already on the agenda.

Many times those notices seem to be intentionally sketchy so as not to peak anyone’s interest.

And it’s worse for “communications” especially those that don’t require approval. They aren’t even read but rather listed, by communication number, and “received” for the record, never to be heard- or heard from- again.

Not only aren’t they discussed, anyone watching the proceedings doesn’t even know they exist.

And while some are fairly innocuous, many contain vital information that is being communicated to the council- and presumably the public- including all sorts of administration reports, audits and other information.

It was only through people questioning the “reports” from the personnel department- ones listed for receipt by number only with a bunch of other communications- that the practice of downgrading budgeted positions so as to allow administration-favored applicants to get a skilled job (and to be taught “on the job”) came to light a couple of years ago... although it has seemingly died for lack of interest by the council since then.

It’s all too convenient for councilmembers who are seeking political cover to controversial subjects.

Even when the subject isn’t contentious it gives the impression that something is being hidden. Councilmembers who wonder why the public doesn’t trust them and is always calling them “secretive” and even “corrupt” need look no further that this practice to figure out at least one thing they can do about it.

As for bills and resolutions most of the times the actual “meat” of the bill or reason for the reso are short and sweet. But most of the time, unless a councilmember or a member of the public says something they fly on by under the radar unexplained and many times undebated.

So why do we mention it?

Because when the new council sub-committee recently designated to look at the council rules meets, one of the only things suggested so far is to hide things further.

Not only is there no plan to change the rules to require that they at least give a public explanation as to what each measure is about, they have proposed that those communication designated for “receipt” and even some routine “approvals” be moved to what is being called a “consense calendar” where, in one fell swoop, without even acknowledgment of each communication number as is now the practice, they will be dispatched at the beginning of the meeting.

For those attending the meetings now it’s hard enough if they want to speak on one of these “matters for receipt.”

They must listen carefully to the clerk mumble the number and jump up and frantically wave their hand so the chair sees them and then, to the dirty looks from councilmembers angry that they must endure three extra minutes at the meeting, sheepishly apologize for interrupting the “zoom agenda” with their testimony.

We’ll be looking at some other rules over the next few weeks as the sub-committee meetings get underway. But we can only hope that the review of the rules isn’t used as an excuse to pare down the public’s participation in the process- a matter that seems to get plenty of lip service but is thrown under the bus when the rubber meets the road.


UPDATE/CORRECTION: In our January 6 post regarding President Obama’s Kailua vacation rental and a story in the on-line newspaper “Civil Beat” about how the agreement with the owner apparently violated the City and County of Honolulu’s ban on rentals for less than 30 days, we suggested that it might also violate the state ban on vacation rentals in the state conservation district.

While, as this map (pdf) of Kaua`i state districting shows, much of the coastal area on Kaua`i is in the state “conservation” district, that is not so in Honolulu where, as this map (pdf) shows, much of the coast is districted “urban.

This screen shot of a google map along side the relevant section of the state district boundary map- with point “A” on the google map indicating the 57-A Kailuana Place address where the president stayed- shows that the house in question is in the urban, not the conservation district.

Thanks to Civil Beat’s Mike Levine for setting us straight and providing the screen shot and map links.

We regret any confusion resulting from our incorrect presumption.

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