Friday, January 13, 2012


GOO-GOO-GA-JOOB: Apparently all is not well on the SS Minnow.

Seems the Skipper's "little buddy" went temporarily insane and deviated from the script prompting a dressing down for daring to do so on Wednesday's "episode."

It was just before lunch when the Skipper, played by Kaua`i County Council Chair Jay Furfaro, had another of his patented, blowhard, conniption fits of pomposity chiding Gilligan, played by local newspaper government reporter Leo Azambuja, for daring to write something that wasn't pre-approved by Furfaro.

Never known for his knowledge of- or adherence to- the Sunshine Law, Furfaro has continued the tradition of his predecessor, Kaipo Asing, in abusing the law to stifle discussion he doesn't like by arbitrarily and capriciously deciding that such discussions are not "sticking to the agenda item," as the law requires.

The fact that the law is supposed to be liberally construed towards openness never comes into the discussion.

So in typical fashion, Furfaro decided on Wednesday that, despite the fact that it wasn't on the agenda, he was going to discuss the appointment of long-time council "fixer," Rick Watanabe, to the position of County Clerk. And since it wasn't on the agenda he announced he was using what he calls "personal privilege"- a term invented some years ago that loosely translates to "illegal but I'm going to do it anyway" - to talk about it anyway.

Saying "I'd like to congratulate ourselves," he described a supposedly "wide search" that yielded more than 20 candidates in what he and other councilmembers praised as a process that was "historic" for its "openness," despite the fact that none of the names of the 20- nor the 5 finalists- has been or is planned on being released, making the process, for all intents and purposes, the same as always- a backroom deal discussed exclusively in closed-door executive session.

But the real howler was when, saying he had prepared a "press release" regarding the appointment, he actually chided Azambuja for having the nerve to include information that wasn't in his press release in the article in the paper announcing Watanabe's appointment.

Calling it an "editorial" Furfaro lit into "the media" saying "you should print the press release as such," and presumably no other unapproved information along with it.

Azumbuja had the nerve to point out that, before the appointment was announced, Watanabe had said he wasn't interested in the job.

Oh- and he want into a long explanation of the various salaries involved including not just Watanabe's now as County Clerk but the salary cut taken by former County Clerk Peter Nakamura who according to the article is now making $29,420 less in his new job as a "senior planner" in the planning department after he was apparently fired by the council following a series of public allegations of misconduct, a harassment lawsuit and a string of executive sessions to discuss his "job performance."

For the record Nakamura says he chose to take the new job at an almost $30,000 pay cut. Councilmembers have essentially refused to discuss the end of Nakamura's tenure saying it was a "personnel matter" and to do so would violate Nakamura's privacy.

Furfaro insisted that Watanabe had "changed his mind" about the clerk job saying "heck, even (Republican candidate for President Mitt) Romney changes his mind," chiding the media by saying he is always available for press inquires.

Furfaro has consistently refused to answer our email queries for the past three-and-a-half years.

But, being so presumptuous and pompous as to think that the press is there to be his own personal megaphone aside, the Sunshine Law violation is not just blatant but the apparent irony of Furfaro's violation in cutting off councilmembers for speaking "off agenda"- as we described above- and then claiming some kind of personal privilege to do the same, is lost on only one person- Furfaro.

In a followup to yesterdays PNN's news coverage of charges of mismanagement by and maltreatment of employees of Prosecutor Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho, we mentioned an Office of Information Practices (OIP) ruling that, a year and a half after the incident, ruled that then Chair Kaipo Asing was wrong to have cut off Councilmember Tim Bynum when he questioned Iseri in May of 2009.

We have since been directed to OIP Memo 11-7 which says that:

To the extent that Requester’s line of questioning wou have related to whether other sources of funds existed for the VOCA program so that the grant monies did not need to be used for that program, we believe that the line of questioning would have been reasonably related to the agenda item and thus would not have violated the Sunshine Law... (B)ased upon our review of the May 6 meeting minutes we believe that the nexus that Requester subsequently drew between the agenda item and his line of questioning was sufficient under the Sunshine Law to have allowed questioning reasonably related to whether other sources of funds precluded the need to apply the grant monies to the VOCA program.

We point this out because it is archetypical of the type of thing that Furfaro- despite his protestations to the contrary- has continued to allow and even use himself to stifle discussion.

Although the extent of his abuse of the provision in the Sunshine Law that says that discussions must pertain to an agenda item hasn't risen to the heights used by Asing during his notorious 2009-10 feud with Bynum over process and rules, since becoming chair upon the electoral ouster of Asing, Furfaro has, over and over, allowed Councilmember Mel Rapozo- who, along with his political ally Iseri, is a political enemy of Bynum's- to interrupt Bynum and try to stop whatever Bynum is saying that Rapozo doesn't want said in public... especially criticism of Iseri.

It all comes down to something that, on Kaua`i, has been ignored and even apparently intentionally flouted ever since council meetings have been televised when it's convenient in order to prevent certain potentially embarrassing information from reaching the public.

The Declaration of Policy and Intent- the very first paragraph of the Sunshine Law, HRS Chapter 92-1 says, in part,

The formation and conduct of public policy - the discussions, deliberations, decisions, and action of governmental agencies - shall be conducted as openly as possible. To implement this policy the legislature declares that:

(1) It is the intent of this part to protect the people's right to know;
(2) The provisions requiring open meetings shall be liberally construed; and
(3) The provisions providing for exceptions to the open meeting requirements shall be strictly construed against closed meetings.

If we had our druthers that statement would be made into a poster and hung on the wall in the council chambers. Or perhaps tattooed on each councilmembers forehead so that they would see it every time they looked at each other.

But rather, every councilmember has at times bemoaned the existence of the Sunshine Law, especially the part that prevents more than two of them them from discussing public policy behind closed doors.

There's a reason for that provision. It's there so that members of the public are privy to discussions that lead to the laws that govern our lives.

We have yet to hear a good explanation for why we should allow this to be done in "back rooms"- smoke-filled or not- other than that it would be "easier" and that people would be more likely to speak up if they know no one is watching.


Listen up elected and appointed government officials. Maybe you didn't get the memo. This is not your own private little fiefdom. It is government and you are determining public policy and people deserve to hear ALL of the thoughts and reasoning that go into your decision-making so that they can determine whether you are the one they want representing them when passing the legislation that rules their lives.

They want to know that your reasons indicate you are serving for the greater good- not for your uncle's wallet. And we want to know you can articulate how you reached your decision. As your math teach used to say: show your work.

If it is "politically embarrassing" or something you'd rather people didn't hear you say, perhaps you shouldn't say it.

It's the height of hypocrisy to cut off councilmembers for speaking "off agenda" with some obviously convoluted, strict interpretation of what the agenda item is and then claim you have "personal privilege" to talk about anything you damn well please between agenda items.

When it comes to convincing our seven stranded castaways of all this, well, let's just say it's an uphill climb.

No comments: