Thursday, December 8, 2011


IT'S BEN DOVER TIME: Our "extra" post yesterday- a news item on Ben Sullivan's hiring by the county to be the new Energy Coordinator- was confirmed in a county press release today.

But apparently others weren't as caught off guard as we were. We heard from quite a few readers saying that they were Casablanca-style "shocked-shocked" that Sullivan parlayed his short stints as founder and head of Apollo Kaua`i and election to the Kaua`i Island Utilities Coop (KIUC) Board of Directors into a well-paid job in the administration of Mayor Bernard Carvalho, Jr.

But looking back on Sullivan's rise from FOB malahini to appointment to Carvalho's crony-filled staff shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who watches the administration's hiring practices and has interacted with Sullivan since his election to the KIUC board.

We began getting them soon after Sullivan's election- emails, comments and phone calls increasingly expressing disillusionment and dissatisfaction with Sullivan's apparent unwavering shift from perceived dissident to KIUC defender of the realm.

It came to a head with his support for the whole FERC-FFP deal followed by the propaganda- some say misinformation- driven vote that allowed the co-op to go ahead with federal involvement in hydropower projects rather than rejecting FERC in favor of strictly state oversight... especially given the potential for federal "trumping" of the more environmentally-protective local regulations and approval process.

But that alone wouldn't be enough to be a "good fit" for the yes-men and women that kow-tow to Carvalho, in an administration where "never is heard a discouraging word" from appointees... or at least not if they expect to serve in their "at-the-pleasure-of" positions for long.

Sullivan didn't just support board decisions as is required under KIUC rules- he firecely defended them. Board Rule 27 mandates lock-step public adherence to board-determined positions and policies and requires all public statements by board members to be cleared by either the chair or (get this) the CEO. The latter creates a potentially unethical if not illegal situation whereby employees of the not-for-profit are directing members of the board.

He has seemingly relished engaging members of the public in support of those positions and dove in head-first in a rare-for-Kaua`i trait of personal engagement with dissidents... of which there are many when it comes to the electricity coop.

And that is what has made Sullivan a perfect fit for the Carvalho administration. It seems to matter not that he is an architect by education and, although his non-profit work has dealt with electrical power issues, one would think that a highly paid, highly skilled position like this would be filled by someone with training and/or experience in the field... although that hasn't stopped most of Carvalho's appointees from landing jobs with a notable lack of credentials.

Sullivan has proved his worth to Carvalho simply through his ability to stick to the guns of his higher-ups, as evidenced by his stick-to-it-ive-ness in taking on all comers in defending the KIUC realm.

It matters not that he is a relative newcomer to the island or that he is a not "local"- usually a negative for patronage hires under Carvalho. It matters only that he is ready, willing and able to act as a human shield for arrows directed at his boss.

We like Ben. He's the nicest of guys and actually we're sure he actually believes in what he says and what he does. It's likely he will bristle at this analysis of why he got his "dream job."

But given the history of the hiring practices since Carvalho took office just over three years ago, it's hard to come to any other conclusion.


Gary Hooser said...

Hello Andy. I think you be too hard on Ben (this coming from someone who is also a political appointee). Ben's heart and energy is clearly in the right place as evidenced by the countless hours he has put into Apollo Kauai for years now IMHO. Yes...every person who starts out as an activist working on the outside...will be "less actified" when they go to work on the inside. One will call it pragmatism, another will perhaps label it compromise and still another will say it is "selling out". It is just the way it works I think. But we need both. We need good people on the inside willing to work with the system and people on the outside banging on the walls and doors, reminding all about what democracy is all about. I think this is a smart move (on multiple levels) that the Mayor is making and I am thankful that we will have someone with Ben's core values in this position. Am sure the two will not always see eye to eye on issues (as is true of the Gov and myself I am sure). But at the end of the day...both Ben and I have to stand on our own and look you and all of our friends in the eye. Time will tell of course one way or another, for both of us I suppose. Take care Andy...keep writing...Gary Hooser

Andy Parx said...

Thanks Gary. I agree with much of what you say. I'm not saying that Ben doesn't have the skills. Or that he won't do a good job- I'm sure he'll be better than most if not any in the Carvalho administration. My criticism is much more of Carvalho and type of skills he looks for in people he appoints and the reason he appoints them: much more for loyalty than skill... maybe more so than any administrator I've ever seen. (Actually he isn't really bright enough to do it himself- no doubt Beth Tokioka saw that potential in Ben).

Ben has turned a deaf ear to issues with KIUC's governance. But people voted for him because they thought he would challenge the way business is conducted at KIUC. I'm certainly not only not the only one that feels this way. In fact I've been astounded at how many people- everyone I've talked to that's not associated with KIUC as a matter of fact- have said they are disappointed in this tendency of Ben's to be a flack-catcher for those that appear to be corrupt inside KIUC.

Take the hydropower debacle. I don't know how carefully you followed it but can anyone say the whole petition and vote process was fair and honest... on the up and up? The difference between the way Ben defended the process vs. the way Carol Bain stayed away from doing so was like night and day. As an elected legislator Ben defended the, at times, indefensible and it wasn't just passive silence but an active defense of Bissell's evasions and prevarications.

When certain things were beyond the pale I remember that you didn't sit still for it. When the grubbing and grading scandal came up before the council, you kept it on the agenda for a year until the truth was told. When others not only looked the other way when the corruption involved in the Superferry project was plain but tried to cover it up, you took a stand. When some chose to forgo civil rights for political expediency, you said no. All of those put your political career in jeopardy but they were just too blatant to let it go much less defend the indefensible. But Ben- who was elected because people thought he would stand up to the way KIUC conducts business in an opaque and manipulative way- chose to do otherwise. Perhaps he just tried to be a politician without having the skills and the compass to do it. Perhaps now that he is on the administrative side he will do well since he doesn't have to deal directly with a public to whom he is accountable.

What I'm saying is that that the skill set Ben used fits perfectly into the things that the mayor looks for in an appointee- it's less of a reflection on Ben than it is on hizzonah.

Ray Songtree said...

In general, I agree with you. Ben did not meet the expectations of many, but I don't know what he promised. But whatever he may have done to disappoint expectations, his action was in fact to back a crooked deal. And one does have to wonder how many others were vetted for new job? Well, I think he will add to situation and not subtract. I was told he did push for transparency in KIUC. I think he will try to do good things.

Mauibrad said...

Gotta say, it makes more sense for Ben to be doing this than being one among nine moving too slowly on the KIUC Board. Never did believe Ben could do much on the KIUC Board, as it is. This new assignment seems more up Ben's alley. Hope he, the Council, and Mayor have realistically evaluated the KESP (as was provided to them by Ben's affiliated organization) and don't waste time, money and energy on unrealistic, and ineffective aspects of the Kauai Energy Sustainability Plan. Cost is already your driver, fellas, no need to add more taxes and subsidies to it, if you know what I mean.