Our new County Council is in the process of selecting a new chair and vice chair for the 2018-20 term. Those who occupy these positions will greatly affect how the council conducts its business over the next two years, and in turn will have a substantial impact on how and what decisions are made about our island. This will have a significant impact on our community.
Just beneath the modern face of the Hawaii we know today, the remnants of the plantation system continue to wield a notable influence.
Here on Kauai, after the cessation of its sugar operations in 2000, the former plantation operator, Grove Farm, diversified into residential, resort, industrial and commercial land development, as well as management and agricultural land licensing.
In 2018, Grove Farm has a ubiquitous presence on Kauai, and its reach extends to every issue on the island, from the source and quality of the water we drink to the planning of our homes and communities. All of these important issues are subject to decisions made by our County Council.
The inaugural meeting of our new County Council will be held Monday. The agenda includes the official nomination and election of the chair and vice chair. Among other duties, the council chair controls the council’s agenda, including omitting or allowing items as he or she sees appropriate, controls the rules that govern the council, and sets rules of engagement with the public.
Grove Farm’s full-time employee, its special projects manager, is seemingly slated to occupy this key position at the helm of our county’s main legislative body.
Without a doubt, this would present an inherent conflict of interest, real and perceived: If an executive of the most influential landowner and real estate developer in the county were to be installed as the chair of the Kauai County Council, the question would surely be, “How can a person who works for one of Kauai’s largest landowners serve the interests of the people of Kauai and not the interests of his or her employer?”
Conflict of interest does not have to be an issue, but the rules of recusal would have to be adhered to consistently whenever conflict arose.
A chair who is also an executive of Grove Farm would be required to regularly recuse himself from council deliberations. And if the chair were to recuse himself on a regular basis in order to avoid any conflict of interest, then how effective can he really be in serving as chair?
Hopefully between now and Monday, when the council-elect is sworn in and meets officially for the first time, its members will recognize that avoiding this conflict will promote public trust in government. One solution: Elect as co-chairs Arryl Kaneshiro and Mason Chock, uniting the council and the community.
Pamela Burrell, Anne Walton, Marion McHenry, Laurie Quarton and Dr. Sandra Mattson represent the Community Coalition Kauai Women’s Caucus.