Hooser: Public works needs state audit

Kaua‘i Sen. Gary Hooser is asking the Kaua‘i County Council to consider using the services of state auditor Marion Higa to conduct a performance and management audit of the county Public Works Department.

That department is charged with issuing grading, grubbing and stockpiling permits and investigating violations of the county’s land clearing law.

The department, however, has come under attack by some Kaua‘i residents for not having moved more quickly in cases of unpermitted work or violations of the county law.

Because of the history on the matter and his personal experience as member of the council, “it seems apparent that significant issues exist in the Department of Public Works that negatively impact important areas of responsibility,” Hooser wrote in a Sept.11 letter to council chairman Kaipo Asing.

Hooser said his request is partially in response to grading and grubbing violations that have led to massive environmental damage in Pila‘a Bay in November 2001.

Hooser said he was also concerned about the clearing of a three-acre hillside in Kealia last month and the potential for environmental damage from that land clearing. The land however, has been revegetated by a lessee of the land, Bruce Laymon, a Kaua‘i rancher.

“It never seems to get resolved, this one incident after another,” Hooser said. “Because it never gets resolved, I think an audit is a good course of action, should the council decide to that.” Asing was not immediately available for comment.

In the case of the Pila‘a incident, North Shore property owner James Pflueger has agreed to restore the damaged lands, although he faces other potential fines for damage done to the reef caused by mudslides from his property.

The number of grading and grubbing violations on Kaua‘i could be reduced through intervention by Higa’s office, Hooser believes.

Hooser said he felt Higa’s office is authorized by law to conduct such audits and has extensive experience in doing them. Using her office would save Kaua‘i County “both time and money and would greatly insure that the resulting product would be both useful and credible,” Hooser said.

Hooser said that on the request of the council, he would sponsor a resolution in the upcoming legislative session requesting the state auditor assist the county.

In a related matter, the members of the council’s Parks and Public Works Committee and councilman Mel Rapozo bumped heads during a meeting Thursday over an amendment he wanted to add to the bill to strengthen the county’s grading, grubbing and stockpiling law.

His amendment allows for county inspectors to help in the investigation of violators of the county law, and could result in prosecution of violators if they fail to follow the conditions of a county stop order.

Rapozo voiced displeasure the committee didn’t second a motion to allow his amendment to be discussed further on the floor.

“Without that amendment, we are status quo,” Rapozo said Friday. “It (any revision of the law) would be a stronger bill with my amendment.”

James Tokioka, council chair and chairman of the council’s Parks and Public Works Committee, said the committee was inclined to support an amendment proposed by councilman Daryl Kaneshiro, a vice chair of the committee.

“Daryl’s amendment is clean and simple,” Tokioka said. “If the county tells you to stop and you don’t stop, then you go to the prosecutors.”

Rapozo, a member of the committee as well, said he will re-introduce his amendment next Thursday when the council meets to consider action on the bill.

The bill carries new language dealing with stiffer penalties, using the best management practices in clearing land, and requiring review of permit applications by more government agencies.

Rapozo said his amendment is broad and far-reaching in its efforts to give teeth to the county law.

“If the inspector goes down (to a worksite) and a violation is observed, the inspector will stop the work,” Rapozo said. “Within three days of the visit, an official notice will be served on the violator. The notice will contain an order, and if a person doesn’t comply, the matter goes to the prosecutors.”

Rapozo’s proposed amendment was watered down from an earlier one he had introduced. It proposed that any alleged grading complaints be immediately sent to county prosecutors for possible action.

Some people who attended council meetings on the matter praised Rapozo’s first proposal, saying it was the quickest and most decisive way to deal with violators.

The proposal, however, didn’t draw support from Tokioka nor Kaneshiro because it seemed devoid of sufficient due process. The bill itself, however, provides for due process by requiring the holding of administrative hearings.

Rapozo said he came up with his latest amendment because “it is what the people want.”

Tokioka said that Kaneshiro’s amendment was more appropriate in dealing with violators. Had Rapozo presented his proposal earlier, it might have been considered along with any other proposed amendments, but that didn’t happen, Tokioka said.

“He didn’t share his amendment (until recently) . I wasn’t sure what he wanted to do,” Tokioka said. “He never sat down and told me what he wanted to do.”

Tokioka said, as far as he knew, Rapozo didn’t lobby any other council members to support his amendment.

Rapozo said he wasn’t aware that he needed to lobby his colleagues, as the bill has been under public scrutiny and has been discussed officially by council members for at least the past three months.

Rapozo said he was bothered that his amendment has been labeled the “Rapozo bill.” “This amendment isn’t about Mel Rapozo. This is what people wanted. That is what I put on paper,” he said.

Staff writer Lester Chang can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) and mailto:lchang@pulitzer.net

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