In our Voices for Friday — April 28, 2006

Kaua’i County Council member JoAnn Yukimura probably said it best at Wednesday’s regular meeting when commenting about the ethics investigation that resulted in police commissioner Michael Ching’s resignation and the council’s actions to cancel K.C. Lum’s contract. “This should be a wake-up call. Any of us can make mistakes like this,” she said about Ching’s behavior as a commissioner when promoting Lum for chief back in 2004 that resulted in the investigation. “We need to be aware of the laws that govern our behavior in making important decisions,” Yukimura said.

Awareness, she said, was the lesson to be learned.

And indeed awareness, or the lack thereof, may be at the heart of the council’s attack on the newspaper during the Wednesday session. Yukimura’s words came between diatribes by council members Kaipo Asing and Mel Rapozo as to whether “the newspaper is reporting their news accurately.”

Both council members repeatedly cited letters to the editor that were printed on the opinion page of The Garden Island in their utter disgust at the coverage in our newspaper. They both decried the newspaper’s coverage as “nonsense and lies.” But the attack did not stop there. “Not once did the paper print the facts,” Rapozo said.

The two didn’t seem to differentiate between letters to the editor and hard news stories developed by reporters. Maybe they don’t read the front page.

A simple archive search at www.kauaiworld.com shows, in the last two weeks alone, five front-page articles stating the facts. And that is only as it relates to the council and this investigation.

And of course, the facts of the Wednesday council meeting where the attacks on the newspaper occurred were reported the next day in the newspaper — just like they are every week in The Garden Island. Minus, of course, the opinions of the council members about the local newspaper.

The coverage of the attacks on the newspaper by the council members were saved for this, the opinion page, because those attacks were not based on fact.

If awareness is key, then it should be understood that letters to the editor are a free forum for our readers to express themselves in any way they deem fit. They are on the opinion page because mostly, they are opinion. Many on the island don’t have the luxury of a county council position or a publisher’s or editor’s desk to be heard. For many, it is a venue to vent or share their ideals. For the council to imply that The Garden Island’s Forum page should be anything else smacks of arrogance. To discredit all the news content based merely on the letters section smacks of ignorance.

Asing himself read a letter to the editor at the meeting to justify the council’s actions … “Eating Crow” dated April 20.

But the two swung with indifference between claiming the “coverage” of the newspaper was what Rapozo called “pathetic” as a whole, and using letters as the only evidence, while leaving out all the hard work of the news reporting — the gathering of facts — done on the front page.

Rapozo did at one point admit he occasionally reads the front page when he took the headline “Council criticized for firing Lum” to task. Even though the council voted to terminate Lum’s contract, the official line is the council merely advanced the process and county finance director Michael Tresler will be the one to cancel the contract. Perhaps the headline should have read, “County votes to cancel contract (in essence firing Lum) while actual contract will be canceled by county finance director.”

Speaking directly to a reporter from The Garden Island at the meeting, Asing said, “There is a member of the media here and I hope that he will print the story as I have put it forth.”

Mel Rapozo said, speaking to the same reporter, “I hope they print what is stated here today.”

What Asing and Rapozo fail to realize, is they are only part of the story, and that would not be fair to all other parties involved if theirs were the sole voice. A free press is not beholden to one voice in a story simply because they say it is the only voice.

Asing and Rapozo attacked the credibility of this newspaper and of the reporter in their presence based on letters sent in by you, our readers, and one editorial in particular.

Asing couldn’t seem to understand where the laments of “Joe Friday” in a recent editorial came from. In that editorial, several patrol officers from the KPD vented their frustrations anonymously. As the editorial states, the officers were fearful of backlash if they included their names. And, just as the council feels the need to protect names of those who testified in some of the documents in the Ching ethics investigation, the newspaper feels the need to protect the names of the officers testifying in that editorial.

That information, Mr. Asing, came from some KPD officers who are frustrated with the situation. You say you can’t understand where it comes from? Neither can we, but far be it from us to squelch the discussion.

Rapozo recommended at the meeting that the county attorney draft a press release so the paper can get the facts straight in the ethics investigation issue.

We would welcome that.

Mr. Rapozo, here is your press release from us.

We would like to have a more open discussion with the county, and yes we would welcome a press release, or at least a return of phone calls. So many times calls go unanswered, e-mails are not returned, questions get as the only response a hollow ring of emptiness.

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