POSTED: 16 JULY 2008 - 6:00am

The Arrogance of Power

image above: Statue of Roman Emperor Constantine. He came to power in 306AD.

by David Ward on 15 July 2008

The arrogance of power is not limited to the Bush administration. We have a fine display of it right here on Kauai.

There’s a phenomenon that takes hold of even the most righteous politicians’ souls, which leads them to bend the rules, and eventually the truth, to suit their political needs of the moment.

The most pernicious action yet is the resolution proposing a charter amendment that raises the bar on any other new amendments. Resolution 2008-33(Item C), or we might as well call it: the amendment to end all amendments. Not only is it extremely undemocratic, but if passed, our politicians are assured that “business-as-usual” continues without any interference from the governed, we the people.

What makes this amendment-to-end-all-amendments so diabolically clever? Because, majority rule would be replaced with a new undemocratic formula. Blank and spoiled ballots are to be counted as NO votes. If a voter decides to either leave the item blank or votes in error, why should these blanks or errors be counted at all, then included in the calculation for the total votes cast?

Item C of Resolution 2008-33 also states that a majority shall constitute at least fifty percent (50%) of the total votes cast and a majority constituting at least thirty percent (30%) of the total number of registered voters. How often in our beautiful Garden Island do 30% of the registered voters vote? In addition, how often are the voter lists purged of the dead, former residents, and incarcerated? Why should the no- shows count as NO votes?

Why are our politicians so afraid of the people having a voice? We have a level playing field now. Why slope it in favor of the status quo. The council members that were present passed this resolution unanimously on its first reading. There will be a public hearing before it is voted on again. Please let the council what you think of this amendment-to-end-all-amendments.

A better Kaua‘i:
The voice of the people not being heard

by Walter Lewis 12 July 2008 in The Garden Island News

The overwhelming majority of our citizens enjoy the rural nature of our island and want to maintain the undeveloped areas and to stop urban sprawl. The General Plan adopted in 2000 contained some fine provisions for protecting Kaua‘i’s rural character and controlling growth, which reflected this perception and specified a limit amounting to an annual rate of about 1.5 percent for increases in living accommodations for tourists.

However, neither the administration nor the council seemed to be listening. Developments mushroomed. On our South Shore earlier this year there were 11 projects with eight separate developers creating volumes of dust and transforming a peaceful community into a resort luxury home area. The mayor made some halfhearted efforts to mitigate public concern by noting that much of the development arose from approvals granted before the mid-1980s and offered but did not pursue a porous bill to have a moratorium on developments on agricultural zoned land. The council watched helplessly but was preoccupied with its agenda on the east sidewalk, bike or dog path and vacation rentals.

Recognizing the yawning abyss of governmental inattention, a citizen group has recently circulated a petition for a charter amendment to place the County Council with responsibility for developments relating to tourists. It appears that sufficient voter signatures have been obtained so that the proposal will be on the ballot this November.

In 2002 property taxes for residents were beginning to skyrocket, and a group of citizens was appointed by the mayor to recommend reformations in our property tax system. After nine months of deliberations they offered their thoughtful proposals, which were totally ignored by our County Council. Being aware that the council was unlikely to come to the aid of homeowners, in 2004 the ‘Ohana Kauai group solicited and obtained signatures of residents to offer a charter amendment that would stabilize property tax costs for resident owners. The measure was adopted with a nearly two-thirds vote of citizens. County officials decided they did not want tax laws to be made by citizen initiatives and, despite the clear approval given by the vote, commenced a lawsuit challenging the measure and indirectly their own citizens.

As provided in the County Charter, in 2005 a Charter Review Commission was appointed to consider potential measures for improving the operation of our county government. Two of the most popular proposals offered for review by the commission were one to change the present strong mayor-council system of government to a county manager system and another to put a limit on county government spending. Both proposals were disfavored by county officials and neither was allowed to be placed on the ballot for vote by our citizens. The county manager system was again proposed to the 2008 Charter Commission, but the same opposition is striving to doom its inclusion on the 2008 ballot.

State policy expressed in the Sunshine Law mandates that meetings of county agencies be conducted as openly as possible to protect the people’s right to know. A limited exception is provided to allow executive sessions to be held in certain circumstances. Beginning in 2002 the County Council greatly increased the number and scope of the executive or secret meetings it held. For over a year now a few citizens have questioned the legality of the practices of the County Council in having its secret meetings and have cited the legal provisions they believe the council is evading or ignoring. The council has made no effort to confront the points the citizens make and is essentially stonewalling their concerns.

The Kauai Charter requires the annual county budget to be balanced. Such a provision usually means that planned expenditures may not exceed revenues. But it also means that planned revenues may not exceed expenditures. At year end, 2007, Kaua‘i had a $48 million unrestricted surplus. In other words Kaua‘i has overtaxed its citizens. Taxes are necessary. But why should we be overtaxed?
In a similar vein KIUC, the electric utility for our island that is owned by the people and presumably operated for their benefit, is persisting on a course that defies the wishes of its members. The effect of the fossil fuel source for our power is devastating with its ever increasing cost. But the elected leaders of KIUC are essentially disregarding the call for alternative energy and offer tamely a program to make some changes at the back end of a 15-year period.

The theme that is present in each of the topics mentioned is that citizens who care about county governmental affairs make it very clear what they want our county and KIUC officials to do, but their voices are not being heard. Or worse they are heard but they are being ignored. The essence of representative government is for the elected officials to carry out the will and purposes of the electorate. Such a government obviously does not exist on Kaua‘i.

The matters mentioned illustrate the serious flaw in representative government. What do people do when their elected representatives fail to act in accordance with their constituents’ wishes? In most places citizens have petition rights, but in Hawai‘i at the state level they do not exist, and on Kaua‘i only the charter amendment is in practice available.

It is often said that the public deserves the government that they get. The roots of the failures of our government lie in the lethargic nature of our electorate. Many of our voters believe their civic duties are complete when at each election they routinely re-elect council members, KIUC directors and mayors who have failed to serve our citizens best interests but whose names they recognize. Sadly, it appears that until we all bestir ourselves to examine the quality of service our officials are providing, communicate our views and make informed decisions to have necessary changes and replacements, we will be condemned to continue to encounter the type of problems discussed.

Goodbye, majority rule?
by Horace Stoessel on 12 July 2008 in The Garden Island News

The charter is the people’s governing document. It was adopted by majority vote and can be amended only by majority vote.

The council has passed on first reading a resolution proposing a charter amendment that would effectively destroy the time-honored democratic principle of majority rule in the case of charter amendments.

The resolution mandates (a) that blank and spoiled ballots and over votes in a general election count as “no” votes against charter amendments, and (b) that “yes” votes must equal at least 30 percent of all registered voters. It is not clear from the wording whether the 30 percent rule applies only to amendments voted on in a special election or whether it applies in general elections as well.
To add to the confusion, the first sentence says that amendments to the charter shall be effective only if approved at a general election.

Besides being a transparent attempt to erode the authority of the voters by making it more difficult, and in some cases impossible, for them to amend their charter, the council proposal contains a hidden effect: it would preemptively kill a county manager proposal that could be voted on in a 2009 special election, to take effect in 2010 if approved, by requiring the “majority” vote to equal at least 30 percent of all registered voters.

Due to the dereliction of two charter commissions, no county manager proposal reached the ballot in 2006 or will reach the ballot in 2008. This means that because of the four-year mayoral term that begins in 2010 the idea becomes dormant until 2012 and inapplicable until 2014 unless a special election occurs in 2009.

Apparently, the council wants to take no chances on having a disruption of the current power structure. If the voters approve the proposed 30 percent rule it won’t matter even if a special election does occur in 2009. Some 30 percent of all registered voters, as opposed to a simple majority of those actually voting, would be a near-impossible standard to meet. It should be noted, too, that a county manager proposal is the only idea on the horizon that could trigger a special election.

Does the public care enough to demand that the charter commission call for a special election in 2009 for the purpose of voting on a well-crafted county manager proposal? Are the voters alert enough to reject decisively the council’s ironic proposal to destroy majority rule by a majority vote?

Commission acting as gatekeepers
by Ed Coll on 12 July 2008 in The Garden Island News

Is Section 3.07E of our charter broken? A proposed charter amendment to section 3.07E “would allow the council to hold executive sessions in conformance with the state Sunshine Law (“Charter amendments headed for Nov. 4 ballot,” A1, July 11).” Nathan Eagle then writes, “The council already does this, but some residents contend that the charter prohibits the council from going behind closed doors for anything except claims.”

Read the charter section 3.07E — it is in black and white.

Our County Council claims they have an attorney opinion stating they are not in violation of the charter, but they won’t release it for all to see, invoking their client/attorney privilege not to inform the public. Curiously, the commission deferred an amendment requiring county attorney opinions upon questions of law to be available in writing within two business days of issuance.

Regarding the county manager amendment Charter Commission chair Chun repeats like a mantra “What problem does this amendment address?” But apparently he is not applying the same criteria to the 3.07E amendment. Why not?

The question Chun refuses to ask is, “What problem is the 3.07E amendment addressing?” If “the council already does this” why is it being put on the ballot?
Apparently, the Charter Commission does not apply the same criteria to all proposed amendments but is using standardless discretion to pick and choose what they deem appropriate for the people to vote on. This is called gatekeeping.
Could it be that the County Council is in violation of the county charter by meeting on matters other than claims, and are changing the charter to cover up their lawless actions? Will the amendment grant retroactive immunity to council members?