Is KPAL dead?

The Kauai Police Activities League — serving thousands of youths across the island through sport activities -— is either alive and well or dead in the water.

The Kaua‘i County Council has not gotten any signs the Kaua‘i Police Department will fill an empty position to lead the league in the next fiscal year.

As a result, county legislators, meeting during budget deliberations at the historic County Building Tuesday night, into early yesterday morning, cut a $39,072 request sought by Mayor Bryan Baptiste’s administration.

The continuation of the league for fiscal year 2007-2008 also has come into question as well, because a request for another $35,000 for the program was not included in the mayor’s budget proposal, due to an oversight by a KPAL leader.

KPAL board president Mike Tresler had inadvertently failed to make the request to the administration because he thought it had been automatically included in Baptiste’s proposed $139.4 million operating budget and $66.6-million capital improvement budget for the next fiscal year.

The KPAL controversy has left many parents in the dark over the future of a program officials say offers direction to youths and helps steer them away from crime.

“The main thing is that the rug was pulled out with no warning,” said Kalaheo resident Bruce Herbig, whose three sons have participated in KPAL wrestling programs. “It could have been taken care of in a myriad of ways. We have got to get the program back online. Whatever it takes.”

Tennille Halemanu, a KPAL recruiter for Kapa‘a, voiced similar frustrations and confusion.

“We have a lot of upset parents,” said Halemanu, whose 6-year-old son, Cade, longs for flag-football practice and competition.

But the county and KPAL are taking actions to try to correct the problems that have arisen, Tresler said.

Tresler said council chairman Kaipo Asing and council members Mel Rapozo and Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho may reinstate the KPAL position, based on discussions he’s had with them.

In an e-mail, finance director Wally Rezentes Jr. said, “Although KPAL did not ask the county administration to fund the position in next year’s budget, Mayor Baptiste is committed and prepared to provide funding for the KPAL program so that there would be no disruption in services.”

The action by the council to eliminate funding for the position because the police department has not filled it for more than a year has left parents vexed.

“It is my understanding that we are to stop all practices,” Halemanu said.

Tresler said the KPAL board has issued no directives to that effect.

“Right now, I don’t know what is being said out there,” he said. “But to my knowledge, no decision like that has been made.”

Tresler said the board was scheduled to meet last night to go over options.

In declining to comment on where the meeting would occur, Tresler said, “Everyone is reacting to what transpired in the budget process of the council.”

Halemanu said parents were scheduled to gather at 4:30 p.m. last night at the Anahola Village Park to discuss the issue.

“We want the parents to get together,” she said. “We are trying to get any answers we can get.”

Kapa‘a youths want the program to remain alive, if sign-ups for the flag football program is any indication, Halemanu said.

“Flag football sign-ups alone were close to 1,500 kids,” she said. “The kids all wait for football season, which starts in May and ends in July.”

She said her son looks forward to flag football practice at the Kapa‘a Park because “he loves to be able to play with his friends.”

Herbig said the program has meaning to him and his family, and wants it to continue.

“I coached two basketball teams, and I was coaching a football team,” he said.

He said he hopes what his three sons and other youths learned in the KPAL wrestling programs can help them in future competition.

“The Kapa‘a unit and the Chiefess Kamakahelei School unit have been practicing to participate in a Maui wrestling tournament for the past two weeks,” he said. “They have been practicing two to two and a half hours a night either at Chiefess School or at the Kapa‘a Armory.”

He said Kaua‘i police officer Mark Ozaki, who has coordinated the KPAL programs, has been a good role model, adding, “he has done a great job.”

Halemanu said parents “have total respect for him and what he does.”

Ozaki, a school resource officer with KPD, has had his work schedule adjusted to coordinate KPAL, and receives overtime pay when necessary, according to acting Kaua‘i Police Chief Clayton Arinaga.

Council member Rapozo said the council wants to see the program remain successful as well, but its hands are tied with regard to the position, because the department has not filled the position for more than a year.

“Two years ago, the mayor initiated the KPAL position in his budget,” and although the council fully supported the request, police officials said they weren’t going to fill the position “due to priorities, not enough men,” Rapozo said.

“Last year, the mayor came up with a funding request for the position, the council funded it,” Rapozo said. “The police department didn’t fill it though.”

He said the police department has decided not to use “resources for PAL, that is the bottom line.”

Leaving an unfilled position funded would be a waste of funds, Rapozo said, and he won’t tolerate such a situation.

Iseri-Carvalho voiced the same concerns, adding, “If they are not going to fill it for two years, why are they funding it?”

Rapozo said as far as he can determine, “There was no funding from the police department nor the administration in Tuesday night’s budgets for any funding for KPAL.”

Arinaga disputed that contention.

“The KPAL position was included in our budget request and it went to the mayor, and I believe it was sent to the council,” he said. “I don’t know why he is making this statement.”

But Tresler said all is not lost, as the council may still be open to funding the position.

Tresler also said he partly blames himself for not having included the $35,000 funding request in the proposed budget.

“There is some misunderstanding, obviously, I think as far as the funding, and I have spoken with the mayor about it. Not making the budget request was an oversight,” Tresler said.

Tresler said he made an assumption it would be funded, as it has been in previous years.

“I thought it was put in the budget, and the mayor thought it was too,” Tresler said. “I made an assumption that it was a standing grant, meaning it is always funded.”

It wasn’t, and so he said he will be working with the mayor to correct the problem, possibly thorough a budget amendment.

The KPAL non-profit program started after George Freitas was hired as police chief in the mid-1990s.

Ozaki got involved because he wanted to promote a boxing program, Arinaga said, and over the years, the league has grown to include other activities.

Even if Ozaki isn’t around to lead the league, Arinaga said a “host of officers” have volunteered their time and energy for programs in the past and he hopes they continue to do so.

The KPAL program has become such a success that it has drawn outside funding.

Scott Giarman, executive director of the Kauai United Way, said the organization awarded a $5,750 grant to the Kauai Police Activities Organization, or KPAL, for the first time.

KPAL could only have qualified for the grant by being a non-profit organization and having served the community for at least two years, Giarman said.

“We were really impressed with the sheer number of kids in the program,” he said.

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