Hot Button Issues

28 March 2006 - 8:30pm

Chief Lum, Ray Chuan & Stanton Pa announcing lawsuit overLum's fight with Kauai officials on 2/6/06

by Ray Chuan on 27 March 2006

This business of the Old Guard trying to get rid of the Police Chief is getting more bizarre every day. I see in the Garden Island today that the Ethics Commission has got in the act by accusing Police Commissioner Mike Ching of acting un-ethically because he favored the appointment of K.C. Lum by voting, in his capacity of a Police Commissioner, to appoint Lum to the post of the Chief of Police. The weird part is that the County Charter says the Police Commission,
only, has the power to fire and hire the chief of police. And how else does the Police Commission appoint the chief but by taking a vote to hire or not hire the candidate? So the Ethics Commission is now saying it is unethical for a Police Commissioner to favor a candidate by voting to appoint him!

What kind of yokels has the Mayor of our county put on the Ethics Commission, of all places?

To carry this comedy further the Finance Director has now joined the Band of Yokels by offering to cancel the employment contract of the Chief of Police. So, now, how about strengthening this Band even further by getting our esteemed County Solid Waste Manager into the act, since he spends more of our tax money than any other single individual in this county?

I am indebted to Chief Lum for illuminating this evolving comedy with some quotations from our County Code and by quoting from the Ethics Commission’s own hired judge who said he couldn’t see anything wrong with a Police Commissioner voting to appoint a Police Chief. So I am attaching here Chief Lum’s recent communication to the Chairman of the County Council in which the Chief seems to demonstrate his familiarity with the Kauai County Code.

Now that the Mayor’s Ethics Commission, by forcing out Mike Ching, has managed to cut the membership of the Police Commission to the point where it cannot take action on the matter of the firing of the Chief, His Honor will have to appoint at least one more member to the Police Commission, with the right credentials of course. And thus the Comedy goes on; and the Money Tree financed by us suffering property tax payers keeps having its golden leaves plucked off in big bundles.

On a different subject, there’s a very good article in the Star Bulletin on a timeline on land infractions by James Plfueger, going back to 1895 when his grandmother Mary Lucas created the Lucas Trust on Kauai. The part of this article that particularly attracted my attention is the comments of Council Member JoAnn Yukimura regarding Mr.Pflueger. I quote the Star Bulletin article:

“JoAnn Yukimura, former mayor and a current county councilmember, said Pflueger, whom she has known for years, means well. ‘I think a part of him wants to help,’ she said, adding that she thinks ‘he didn’t always know the implications of his actions.’ “

It would seem that Mr.Pflueger might have done better in court if he had engaged the legal services of one Stanford Law School graduate who apparently understands his problems better.



Does this sound like Alice In Wonderland?

15 February 2006 - 8:30am

story on Chief Lum as it appeared on Honolulu KGMB television news

My friends - You Are In Alice’s Wonderland!!
by Ray CHuan 13 February 2006

Mayor conspires against Lum
Sorry I’ve been silent for a few weeks. My wife and I went for an over-due visit to relatives and friends on the Mainland for about two weeks. Of course, nothing has happened to change anything on this island in the mean time. The Council and the Mayor continued to pile on charge after charge (unsupported by any substantive evidence, of course) against the Chief of Police, the crescendo rising with the rise in drug busts as well as the ever-rising drain on the taxpayers money-tree with the County hiring outside counsel at a minimum denomination in appropriation of $100,000.

As the total appropriations for multiples of $100,000 exceeded the County Attorney’s budget of $300,000 for this fiscal year by a factor of 3 and more, the Mayor turned on the screw some more, with the help of the Finance Department which inserted into the month-end pay envelopes of the staff of the Police Department the following message (click here for 700k PDF file of it):

"... I have asked the Kauai Police Commission to remove K.C. Lum from the position of Chief of Police and begin a nationwide search for a replacement..."

Now, that’s pretty cute!

Editor's Note: you can reach the Kauai County Mayor here:
Bryan J. Baptiste
4444 Rice St, Suite 235
Lihue, HI 96766
Phone: (808) 241-6300
Fax: 808-241-6877

Playing politics big time with the help of the Finance Department. Wonder what
the Mayor will do now that the chief has sued in federal court. Of course, he did announce right after he learned of this lawsuit (which, as we all know by now, will cost us hundreds of thousands of bucks hiring expensive outside lawyers) he wanted to hire a “facilitator” to magically turn everyone friendly and cooperative.

Solid Waste Miracle
There seems to be no limit to what this County’s hired hands, operating as “consultants”, can do to produce miracles. Of course, this county government typically hires consultant to do everything, as a way to show the public that it is doing “something”, just as the latest $300,000 to hire E.W. Beck to produce the miracle that would solve the decade old Solid Waste problem. If Beck were an honest consultant it would, of course, go back a few years to see what this county did in 1999 asking for bidders to reduce the flow of waste to the Kekaha Landfill, for five of the companies answering the request for proposal did in fact offer real life honest-to-goodness solutions, as I explained in a commentary published in the Garden Island last month.

The county, of course, turned down all these, for the simple reason that all the methods they proposed would have worked, which would have basically retired the whole Solid Waste Operation, headed by one of the not yet retired “Untouchables” in this county government.

Since the Untouchables must remain untouched until they reach retirement age (at salaries significantly higher than what the mayor gets) and retire with a fat pension, the SW Untouchable is too young to retire, thus posing a knotty problem for the Mayor and the Council. Which is why we the taxpayers must hand out another $300,000 to hire R.W. Beck, again, to find the Magic Bullet – again and again. In the mean time, the State Department of Health will keep on giving Kauai more permits to keep extending the life of the Kekaha Landfill which miraculously received a permit last year for a 25-foot addition to the pile of trash at Kekaha; and now the “experts” are talking about filling up the space between the old Kekaha Landfill (Phase I, which does not qualify as a legal landfill by current standards) and the current (Phase II) landfill. With the five-year extension given to Kauai by the DOH, this new scheme ought to drag things long enough for the SW Untouchable to reach retirement age – thus relieving the Taxpayers from having to continue to pay out moneys in $100,000 denominations to consultants, outside lawyers and sundry other expediters.

By the way, did you read in the papers recently that Hawaii taxpayers pay the highest taxes in the nation? What the papers didn’t continue with the story is that Kauai County taxpayers pay the highest per capita tax among the counties in this state. For example: The per capita property tax in Oahu in fiscal year 2005 was around $700, while for Kauai it is around $1,100.

Where the only road that is kept up to standards is Haleilio where many officials live or drive on this road on the way to their homes. Where the government will not close the beach when the bacteria counts go crazy. Where high elected officials try to send the police chief to the gallows when these officials’ kids get busted for drug offense. Where the electricity rate is the highest in the nation. Etc. Etc.

Which leads to the subject of KIUC
There is an interesting official ad in the Garden Island today, from the Department of Agriculture, Rural Utility Service (RUS), announcing the Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) with a project by the Sandwich Isles Communications Inc. (SIC) This is a half billion dollar project funded by the Rural Utility Service to build a fiber-optic cable connecting all Hawaiian Homelands on Kauai, Oahu, Maui, Molokai and Hawaii. For what purpose, you would ask. To connect the Hawaiians to the Internet! The regular commercial communication companies were asked why they did not object to such a special service, their answer was succinct: “All the homes on Hawaiian Homelands that wanted telephone connections (and thereby connection to the Internet by the old-fashioned way) already had them!” So why the half billion dollars to Sandwich Isles Communications?

The answer is simple and will probably shock you. The RUS is one of these perpetual federal agencies whose only purpose in life is to spend or loan money out, using public funds collected by the phone companies and similar communications companies. The RUS is the descendent of the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) created during the Great Depression to bring electricity to the farmers in this country. With Great Depression fading into history and all the farmers can get all the electricity they want just like everybody else in the country the bureaucrats, true to the spirit of a bureaucracy, re-invented the REA as the RUS, to bring “utility service” to under-served communities in the nation. That would cover remote farming and ranching areas in the West and Indian Reservations and, of course, as the Smart Hawaiians and their smart haole cousins were soon to discover, the Hawaiian Islands. Thus were born Sandwich Isles Communications Inc. and, close behind it, Kauai Island Utility Cooperative, with the full cooperation of the RUS.

Since the RUS has an unlimited and perpetual supply of public money (I’ll explain presently) it is eager and more than willing to support any “worthy” cause, on whatever terms that would benefit all concerned – both the money-giving and the money-receiving, since that’s how the game of an undying bureaucracy is played.

The Sandwich Isles Communications Inc. deal got the attention of someone in the Wall Street Journal office in San Francisco (who had been responsible for ridding
us on this island of the thousands of junk cars lining highways large and small during Mayor Kusaka’s time, with a front page article calling us the “Junk Island”) When the WSJ, which was ready to send someone over here to do the SIC story, found that U.S.News had got the wind and was about to do a story, backed out. Unfortunately, the U.S. News story came out about the time of the huge Enron story, and got no attention. Sandwich Isles Communications got its half billion to bury fiber-optic cables all over (or under) the Hawaiian islands. Shortly thereafter KIUC got its two hundred million or so.

If you will take out your next phone bill you will find under Fees an item called variously “Federal Universal Service Fee” or “Public Service Tax” or “Carrier Universal Service Charge”.

I get three bills. From Hawiian Telecom I have a Federal Universal Service Charge of $0.67; from Sprint Long Distance a Carrier Universal Service Charge of $0.85; and from Cingular a Public Service Charge of $1.59, for a monthly total contribution to the RUS from me of $3.11.

If we count only the homes in this country of, say, 60 million users, that would come to $180 million a month and an annual contribution to the RUS of $2 billion! I don’t know what the total for all categories of users would add up to; but we can be sure it is no small change!

So that helps to explain why KIUC can play all kinds of games and gets whatever it wants from the RUS. Which may also explain why some KIUC Board members go to Washington DC every month. Since KIUC maintains the same No Sunshine Mode of operation as its cohorts in the County Government, we can only surmise what is going on inside the utility.

Those of you who stay up late as I do must have noticed the high frequency of occurrence of black-outs, many being island-wide. These all occur during a period of very low demand when it is unlikely to have outages. Even during Hurricane Iniki there was NO ISLAND-WIDE blackouts! KIUC admits to three such total blackouts so far. Both the KIUC PR person Anne Barnes and its Customer Relations Representative Shelley Paik have responded to my inquiries about these blackouts with clearly bogus information, or just poor information because they simply don’t know what is going on.

They do say they would publish blackout data on their website regularly; but I am not by any means convinced of anything I hear from these people. After all, KIUC does not have any competent or qualified (administratively or technically) leaders.

Its CEO Alton Miyamoto (under KE) quit shortly after the transition to KIUC and was eventually replaced by Dutch Achenbach, about whom I reported to the Garden Island recently with no dissenting words from KIUC.

Its Chief Operating Officer quit a couple of months ago and we know nothing (so far) about his replacement. There was a young engineer aboard at Kauai Electric who seemed to be well qualified but who left the island during the transition. Then there were the obvious whistle blowers from within KIUC who gave info to Andy Gross before Andy quit the Garden Island. So my surmise is that KIUC is undergoing an implosion which will reach critical conditions shortly after the departure from its Board of Greg Gardiner and Ron Kouchi, presumably after the next board elections in March. The newly elected (?) board members will be left holding the bag with no solution in sight.

When a company goes broke the court will appoint some kind of trustees. Even when a city goes broke – as New York and Richmond, CA did not too long ago- the courts were able to put these entities into some kind of receivership so that the public will be somewhat protected. But what do you do with a bogus “cooperative”? And one that works in cahoots with one of the biggest scam operations in the nation?

I frankly don’t have the faintest idea. I have two small generators left over from Iniki. I have propane and a solar water heater. I can probably oil up and try out my generators so I can keep the refrigerator going during the increasing number an duration of blackouts. I do have a fairly large supply of candles, five of which I place strategically around the house to cope with the by now common blackouts
around midnight. The longest blackout so far was about six hours long, during which I did not open the freezer section at all and open the refrigerator only
very briefly at a time.

But I also think these blackouts may not be for technical reasons, but were the “acting out” of the working guys at the working level, just like kids act out in a dysfunctional family, in order to draw attention from the public. But can the workers run the utility by themselves for very long, if the bandits are kicked out or depart with their added riches? These are not crazy thoughts. Something has got to happen to rescue the residents on this island from an impending disaster.

Sorry, that’s enough doomsday talk for one evening.
So I better say goodnight now.

to see Letter from Chief Lum to County Council Chair click here



Unmentionables & Untouchables

9 January 2006 - 11:30am

Kauai Resource Center in 2000. see article from Star Bulletin

The Unmentionables
By now the Asing Council has passed the 160 mark in the number of Executive Sessions (ES) it has held since December, 2003; whereas, in the two years prior to that the Kouchi Council, there were 41 ES’s. One would presume that some of the matters that this County Government would not want the public to know about would be special deals between the county and outside contractors, deals that are not stipulated in contracts. One such instance would be what is not covered by the Garden Island in its front page story “County evicts recycler” on Wednesday, January 4, 2006.

For those who are somewhat familiar with how this county handles waste materials, including all the instances of illegal waste handling, it must be puzzling how minor the infractions Island Recycling is alleged, by the county, to have committed to warrant the summary cancellation of its contract; and further, why Island Recycling did not challenge the county’s action. When it comes to illegal handling of solid waste nobody can beat the record of this county for its seven years of stockpiling of mixed and hazardous waste on unprepared ground surface at the Lihue Transfer Station which culminated in a huge fire of suspicious origin in July, 2004, followed by an un-reported fire at the Puhi Metals Center the same night which destroyed what was left of the evidence of the mixed and hazardous waste that had been removed to Puhi from the Lihue Transfer Station during the fire.

All this, while indicative of the deplorable operation of this county’s solid waste management (which has had no qualified professional person in charge since 1995), is not directly related to the mysteries surrounding the Garden Island’s front page story of Jan 4; but does provide the background of incompetence and corruption to explain the Garden Island’s reporting of the dismissal of its contractor, Island Recycling, by the County of Kauai.

The story spans the tenures of three mayors of this island, beginning with Mayor JoAnn Yukimura (currently a member of the County Council), continuing through the administrations of Mayors Kusaka and Baptiste. It began with Hurricane Iniki, the historical wind that left the island with untold tons of debris of all descriptions the disposal of which posed a real challenge to then Mayor Yukimura.

Two of her emergency measures dealing with hurricane debris – burning it in large deep trenches above Kalihiwai and burying mattresses in large pits in Anahola – were not met with accolades. The idea of placing some of the debris through some process to render it useful again was considered. An appeal to the Economic Development Administration of the Agriculture Department brought home over two million dollars in grant to build a facility in which hurricane-generated debris would be sorted and modified so as to leave the facility as products with commercial value.

Thus the term “Resource Center” was applied to this new facility which was completed, though not yet put to use, by the time Mayor Kusaka came to office. Mayor Yukimura had more pressing issues to deal with in the immediate post-Iniki years, especially in securing financial resources to repair damages to county-owned properties, even though the county had $65 million in insurance coverage, because the insurance company would cover only a small percentage of the losses.

Hundreds of DSR’s (damage survey reports) were bounced back from the insurance company and bounced forward to the FEMA office in Honolulu. A significant part of the county’s claims forwarded to FEMA also covered the completion of the modification of the commercial shopping center in Lihue into the present Kauai County Civic Center. FEMA wasn’t exactly pleased with the claims; and contested these with so-called “de-obligation” – meaning FEMA wanted some of the money back, especially the part covering not the repair of the renovation of the shopping center but the forward going completion of the Civic Center.

Negotiations with FEMA over the de-obligation actions consumed much of the time of the mayor’s office during those years following Iniki.

Thus Mayor Kusaka’s office was not well prepared to deal with implementing the utilization of the spanking new Resource Center – which by then had earned the
moniker “White Elephant”.

For two years the county tried to secure a contractor to operate the Resource Center to process the debris left over from Iniki, through the publication of three “Request for Proposal” documents, none of which received any bids. Worried that the EDA might cancel the grant and ask for the return of the money, the county asked for help from the state’s Department of Business and Economic Development, which brought to Kauai, on loan, a specialist to help with the next
round of RFP’s. Finally, a deal was made between Kauai County and Island Recycling of Honolulu, to operate the Resource Center in accordance with the
terms of the grant from the EDA.

The county’s problems did not end with this contract to Island Recycling, for a very simple reason. There were already contracts in place, before Island Recycling came along, to handle the solid waste, the major one being, originally, Waste Management Inc., the largest waste management company in the country.

WMI quit Kauai when it could not negotiate a continuation of the contract it had held with the county and was not paid for six months, leaving the county in a lurch. A group of local business people formed Garden Island Disposal to take over the business from WMI. Later, when Island Recycling came into the picture, the problem arose as how to play a zero sum game, giving work to Island Recycling without taking some of it away from GID and others such as JC Glass. The seed for conflict and discontent was thus sown.

GID was the most affected, and decided to look into the operation of Island Recycling at the Resource Center. It transpired that, after spending more than two years without success in securing a contractor, the county enticed IR to accept a contract by relieving it of the responsibility (written into its contract) of taking the unused waste stream, after it had taken what it needed to process for re-use and recycling, with its own crew and equipment, to the Kekaha Landfill – a not insubstantial cost reduction for IR.

This little shenanigan was uncovered by GID whose investigator was able to get testimony from county workers at the Lihue Transfer Station (which is right next to the Resource Center) that county personnel and equipment were used to move the un-used waste to the Lihue Transfer Station and thence, by county truck and driver, to the landfill at Kekaha.

I have no direct knowledge of what transpired between GID and the County during a good part of 2004 and 2005, except to take note of the frequent appearance of Executive Session 165 (regarding the contract with Island Recycling) on the agenda of the County Council meetings. It doesn’t require much speculation to surmise that the County was trying to get out from under the mess it had created with the under-the-table deal offered to Island Recycling who, on the other hand, did not help matters by further adding fuel to the fire by encroaching even more into the waste business of existing contractors on the island.

It may well help to clear up much of the un-answered questions raised by the Garden Island report of January 4 on the eviction of Island Recycling if the journalistic sleuths of TGI would request the County Council to release the minutes of ES-165. Direct contacts with GID as well as Island Recycling should
shed further light on the numerous UNMENTIONABLES buried under the White Elephant.

In hind sight, it would have been better and cheaper for the county to give back the two million dollars to the EDA to get out from under the commitment when you consider the legal expenses the county must have incurred since its clever little deal with Island Recycling was unmasked. The current County Council would thereby also learn the benefits of maintaining TRANSPARENCY in discharging its official duties under the current Council Chair.

The Untouchables
Over the years many of the Nitpickers have noticed that certain officials in the County Government, generally in the first or second level of supervision, seem to be immune from criticism for their malfeasance and their assurance of retiring after completing their High Three -highest salary in the last three years of service which in the examples of the three or four recent retirees meant salaries in the low nineties, significantly higher than that of the mayor. Notable among recent retirees are John Apana and Russell Sugano.

The former “cleaned up” the mess left by a contractor for handling junk cars who simply walked away from his yard near the Lihue Airport a few years ago, by simply digging a hole one fine night and burying the mess, instead of moving the hazardous waste with proper care to the Kekaha Landfill, the act reportedly witnessed by a member of the County Council. Upon discovering this transgression the State Department of Health levied a fine of $50,000 against the County of Kauai. The Mayor’s Office haggled with the DOH for months to get the fine reduced ultimately to $15,000, all the while explaining that what happened was not an act of malfeasance but the over-zealousness of an employee in doing his job well.

Then there was the head of the Roads Division who hardly ever stepped outside his office while the public clamored for the filling of pot-holes and broken pavements all over the island – except for Haleilio Road which, always in top shape, happens to lead to the residences of some top County officials.

Three of these Untouchables have retired in recent years, opening the opportunity for some new and, hopefully, diligent talents to fill the important positions, including, not the least, that of the County Engineer.

But, what about the Untouchables who are still too young to retire? Such as the person who has had various titles but the same job of “managing” the county’s Solid Waste Program, the job which he is famously known not to be qualified for; and, when challenged by some among the Nitpickers, Mayor Kusaka promised to send him to school to become qualified.

Regrettably, Her Honor never fulfilled her promise.

In the mean time, the cost of running the Solid Waste Program keeps rising from year to year, standing now at near nine million dollars, compared to $6.6 million in FY2002. When faced with similar untouchable problems, former Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris promoted the untouchables to positions where they essentially did nothing; and filled their positions with younger people willing and able to do their jobs. In two years Harris reportedly saved $45 million; and the jobs got done.

The obvious solution to our SW Untouchable is to put him in an empty office to while away time; and filling his vacated position with someone who is qualified. Since the Untouchable hardly ever does anything of any substance without paying a “consultant” to do it, the savings in eliminating the consultant with the arrival of the qualified solid waste manager would more than make up for the cost of keeping the Untouchable on the county payroll.

This brilliant advice I am giving the Mayor and the Council for free, again, just as I did for helping them out of the landfill dilemma recently.

see also Island Breath: Kauai Landfill
see also Island Breath: Zero Waste
see also Recycled Art



Empire Building

5 January 2006 - 10:30pm

by Ray Chuan 2 January 2006

There’s an interesting agenda item for the January 5th meeting of the Council
Committees: “CA-2005-6 Communication (11-17-2005) from Shaylene Oseri-Carvalho, Coomunity Assistance Committee Chair, requesting that the Administration be present to provide a status of the Agency on Elderly Affairs with
regards to compliance with State/Federal mandates.”

One of the ambitious steps Mayor Baptiste has undertaken since taking office to ensure his control and that of his intended successor was to consolidate a bunch of offices into a single Office of Community Assistance. Such a consolidation would not only put more personnel under the control of Bernard Carvalho (Baptiste’s reputed heir apparent) but also state and federal funds that come with an agency such as Elderly Affairs. The consolidation would not only put more
heads under Bernard’s direct control, but money (including state and federal funds) as well.

Shaylene attended the RSVP Recognition function on December 6th at the Radisson and there she talked to the Federal representative for RSVP who brought her up to speed on all the things this administration has done to Elderly Affairs, such as wanting to take RSVP out of Elderly Affairs, the dire need of the planner, the delays in hiring personnel, etc.

Council got hold of the bad monitoring report Elderly Affairs received from State in which among other things, State questioned expenses for which there was no back up. These expenses were charged to us by Bernard for Senior Center instructors AFTER the State office said Elderly Affairs funds could not be used
for programs not funded by EA.

Bernard has been delaying this presentation because he is desperately trying to find an excuse for all the questionable actions. The Council reportedly asked
the State office to come to the meeting and the Director (Pat Sasaki) and the second in command (Elvira Lee) will be at the Council meeting on January 5th.

Senator Hooser had asked the Council to look into the hiring of the planner a while back. He had asked Administration but they never responded to him. It will be interesting to see if Carvalho will show up at the Council meeting, and how he would respond to the questions. It would be interesting to see if Shaylene would go after Bernard with the same intensity and sharpness of speech and demeanor that she famously exhibited during her interrogation of Police Commissioner Carol Furtado a couple of months ago. Or, she could be all sweetness and sunshine, and just go through the motions of an inquiry, and drops the subject of illegal appropriation of federal and state funds.

What Happened to Council Draft Bills No. 2154, 2155 and 2156?
These were the bills Kaipo proposed, or rather intended as an end run around the County Charter, that would limit the public’s ability to adopt initiatives and referenda under provisions in the Charter. When this attempted end run was noted by me when these measures were introduced at a Council meeting in November Chair Asing hurriedly arranged for a “workshop” so the public could deliberate upon them.

The “workshop” never materialized. I suspect Kaipo realized that his intention of by-passing a Charter amendment through vote by the public, rather than vote
by the seven members of the Council, had been exposed; and he dropped the matter. We shall wait and see!

Never under-estimate the craftiness of Kaipo; he may well bring up these measures under some other disguise in the near future. The public just has to be ever diligent!


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