The Kaua’i County Council has been criticized for engaging in a war of politics with Mayor Maryanne Kusaka over the proposed $215 million sale of Kauai Electric to the Kaua’i Island Utility Co-op.
Kauaians will be the victims of this battle, saddled with a utility they don’t want or with unfavorable rates should the state Public Utilities Commission give final approval of the sale, critics charged at a meeting of the council energy and public safety committee at the historic County Building Wednesday
But, council chairman Ron Kouchi said his final decision will not be politically-motivated. “I have no animosity towards the mayor, and I have no personal ax to grind with anybody,” Kouchi said.
At the Thursday meeting, the council committee gave preliminary approval to the sale after the state PUC did the same July 31.
The full council is expected next Thursday to vote on a motion to either support or not support the sale.
The preliminary approval by the council committee goes against a preliminary position by Kusaka’s administration opposing the sale.
Among other concerns, county officials cited concerns about KIUC’s projected revenue projections and large users going off the electrical grid.
The PUC must approve the sale between Citizens Communications Corp. of Stamford, Conn. before the sale is final. A final decision is expected Sept. 17.
At Wednesday’s meeting, audience member Biff Whiting said Kusaka “beat you (the council) to the punch” by taking an official position early on while the council “took a wait-and-see” stand.
Doing so “squandered your (the council’s) chance to take the leadership role,” Whiting said.
It would be folly for the council to try to out do the mayor at this time in the name politics, he said.
“If you do the shameless thing at worshipping one-upmanship at the expense of the best interest of Kaua’i, it will be the biggest betrayal since Judas sold Jesus for 30 pieces of silver,” Whiting said.
Another critic of the sale, Charles Lanphier said Kusaka took the reigns of leadership early on.
When the PUC rejected KIUC’s initial proposal to buy the utility for $270 million two years ago, Kusaka sought out alternatives, he said.
She formed a citizens’ committee, which included three board members of KIUC, to look at the structure of the proposed sale, Lanphier said.
In a letter, Kusaka asked Gregg Gardiner of KIUC whether he would follow through on the recommendations, and if he did, the mayor would endorse KIUC, Lanphier said.
“They didn’t, she opposed it,” Lanphier said. “That makes a great deal of sense and that is leadership.”
Another opponent of the sale, Glenn Mickens said while he is among the harshest critics of Kusaka’s administration, “it is common sense for me to eliminate any hidden motives for me, political or otherwise, that (councilman)” Kaipo (Asing) and Ron (Kouchi) seem to insist on.”
But Councilman Gary Hooser said people on both sides of the issue should stop bickering and respect different viewpoints.
He said people “see things differently and good people can see the same information and come to different conclusions.” Hooser said he has agreed and disagreed with critics and supporters,
Kouchi said public sentiment over the actions of the Consumer Advocates office and the Department of Navy – two intervenors along with the county in the proposed sale before the PUC – shifts with the wind.
Kouchi said residents viewed both as heroes when they spoke out against a proposed utility sale price of $270 million, resulting in the PUC to vote against the sale two years ago.
“And now how quickly they have become conspirators,” said Kouchi, alluding to claims by critics the consumer advocate office and the Navy deliberately left the county out of a meeting in July in which when they forged a stipulate agreement giving preliminary support for the sale.
At the meeting, critics continued to rail against the sale.
Bruce Pleas said he can’t support the sale because KIUC “doesn’t represent the people of Kaua’i” and because the co-op didn’t find out from residents whether they supported a KIUC-operated utility.
“This is something out of the 1900s, from Russia, where you can form a so-called co-op and then tell people what the co-op will do for you,” Pleas said. “I am sorry this is the United States. It is a democracy.”
He said the council’s approval of the sale would result in a situation where residents would be “sold down the river without a voice in it.”
Supporters of the KIUC sale have disputed that contention, emphasizing that the KIUC board represents a broad spectrum of island residents.
Another critic, Carol Bain, echoed Pleas’ sentiments and added that she found it frustrating that the KIUC board has not follow through on recommendations that a “full” co-op operate Kauai Electric.
In a related issue, the council committee on energy and public safety approved a proposed charter amendment allowing the council to create an electric power authority to run Kauai Electric should KIUC’s proposed sale fail.
“It is for backup. We just want something just in case,” said councilman Bryan Baptiste.
The power authority would run the utility independently of the county, officials have said.
If the full council approves the charter amendment proposal, it would be put on the election ballot Nov. 5.
Staff Writer Lester Chang be reached at mailto:email@example.com or 245-3681 (ext. 225).