KPAL is back on

One day after Kaua‘i Police Activities League officials temporarily halted activities to square away government funding for the program, its leaders announced yesterday the league has been re-activated.

But even with the resumption of the league, as of yesterday morning, the league might have to operate without a paid Kaua‘i Police Department coordinator.

Acting Kaua‘i Police Chief Clayton Arinaga said he, too, wants to see the program — affecting more than 150 coaches and more than 1,000 youths in ongoing programs — fly, but he can’t commit an officer to lead the league at this time.

Finding and hiring qualified police officers to fight crime has to be a higher priority, he said.

League officials announced Thursday morning that league play and practices would stop until government officials worked out issues with government-generated requests to fund a $39,072 KPAL position to lead the program and to provide $35,000 to develop new KPAL activities.

KPAL representatives said yesterday those issues, along with attempting to get police support, are being resolved.

“Absolutely, KPAL is back in action. As of Thursday afternoon, we sent out e-mails and tried to call everybody,” KPAL board president Mike Tresler said yesterday afternoon. “Everything is being taken care of. To my knowledge, the funding issue has been resolved.”

KPAL Board Member Derek Kawakami echoed Tresler’s optimistic stand.

“The league is back on, thanks to the support of the mayor, the Kaua‘i County Council and the community,” he said. “ I have 100-percent confidence that the future of KPAL is going to be stronger and healthier than ever.”

He said the board decided yesterday morning to have the league re-activated.

“The reason to temporarily suspend practice was based on a decision made Wednesday and it was never intended to prolong the suspension,” Kawakami said. “Halting practice for a short time was so could we could re-evaluate our options.”

Mark Ozaki, an officer and KPAL coordinator for six years, said in an e-mail yesterday to parents that the program will “start up again with or without all of these political issues being resolved.”

In leading the league, Ozaki has been compensated with some funds from his job as a school resource officer at Kapa‘a High School and with overtime pay approved by the police department.

He said the league will be up and running “until you hear differently from me.”

“It was related to you all that we do not want the kids to suffer,” Ozaki stated. “We will let the adults do battle, but let all the kids have fun, stay off the streets and out of trouble.”

Ozaki invited coaches and youths to return to the field.

“So practice, practice, practice, and have fun,” Ozaki stated. “Let the kids know that KPAL loves them and this league was created for them.”

Kawakami said the KPAL board realizes the benefits youths and their parents derive from the league, and studied all options before making the decision to suspend the program.

The board took the action because “we needed to find out where we are as an organization,” he said.

Kawakami and Tresler said the decision didn’t come easily and was made with consensus.

“As board members, we were put in the position to make this tough decision, and we are all volunteers,” Kawakami said.

The KPAL board chose to abruptly close down the program even though the $35,000 for new recreational activities for the league is intact and Ozaki was theoretically still on the job until June 30, the end of the fiscal year budget.

With regard to the decision to suspend league practice and play, Tresler said, “the whole premise was to protect the program for the keiki. Everything was done in the best interest of the kids.”

Arinaga said he will support any wholesome recreational program that will benefit island youths.

Whether his department identifies filling the KPAL position as a priority is another matter, he said.

“To the extent you are telling me I have to provide a body in there on a permanent basis, I cannot make that commitment, based on the circumstances the department is currently in,” he said.

County officials have said the department has vacancies for 26 law enforcement positions and needs officers on the streets to fight crime.

During a meeting of the Kaua‘i County Council Committee of the Whole, at least four members, including councilmembers Mel Rapozo and Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho, voted to eliminate the funding for the KPAL position because the police department has not filled the position over the past two years.

Rapozo lodged his frustration at a Garden Island reporter for identifying him and Iseri-Carvalho as the only council members who voted to eliminate the position. The other legislators who took the same course of action were not immediately identified.

In an e-mail, Rapozo said he is an assistant coach for flag football for KPAL and that “KPAL was not cut by the county council.”

“Furthermore, the department never filled the KPAL position that was funded by the council the past few years,” he stated.

In actuality, the position isn’t needed because Ozaki has been doing the job with overtime pay, Iseri-Carvalho yesterday.

That pay comes from a police department fund, and if that fund is depleted by other overtime requirements, officials can shift department funds to compensate Ozaki, she said.

“We should dollar-fund the position,” Iseri-Carvalho said, essentially meaning set aside as little money as possible for the job while it remains vacant and then fund a filled position.

Even if the position is funded in the next fiscal year, there is no guarantee Ozaki will get the job, Iseri-Carvalho said.

She believes other officers may want the job. “The KPAL position will have to go out to the bidding process,” in accordance with rules of the State of Hawai‘i Organization of Police Officers, Iseri-Carvalho said.

And even if a police officer is not paid to run KPAL, the league should be able to find able-bodied volunteers to do the job, she said.

Iseri-Carvalho also said the council, for the first time in the current county budget, set aside $35,000 to KPAL to develop new recreational programs.

And while the county administration is anticipated to ask the council to fund KPAL the same amount in next year’s proposed budget, she said the county might want to help, but is really not in the business of subsidizing nonprofit groups that can generate their own funds, as is the case with KPAL.

“KPAL can raise its own funds,” she said. “The county has no authority over this nonprofit or any nonprofits. The decisions regarding this organization are made by KPAL’s board, and not the county.”

• Lester Chang, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) or lchang@kauaipubco.com.

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