More funding sought for outside counsel
by Nathan Eagle – THE GARDEN ISLAND
The Kaua‘i County Council plans to put extra money in its fund to hire outside legal counsel in part to send a message to the Kauai County Attorney’s Office saying service continues to fall short of expectations.
After a three-week departmental review of Mayor Bryan Baptiste’s proposed county budget for next fiscal year, which starts July 1, the council started its decision-making process yesterday at the Historic County Building.
The seven-member legislative body backed several initiatives that the administration put forth Thursday in its supplemental budget, which added $2.2 million in unanticipated property tax revenues to the initial $155.7 million operating budget proposed March 14.
The five-hour session revealed the council’s support for the Kaua‘i Food Bank, the Kaua‘i Police Department, Civil Defense and The Kaua‘i Bus. But it started with frustration over County Attorney Matthew Pyun Jr.’s attitude toward the council, which his office represents in legal matters.
“There’s a total lack of respect for any activity that is going on here,” Councilman Ron Kouchi said, referring to Pyun reportedly saying he does not want his deputy attorneys wasting their time sitting through often lengthy council meetings.
The attorney’s office did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
Council members said they want a county attorney on hand at their meetings to answer legal questions, a service that has been intermittent over the past year here but should regularly occur as it does at council meetings across the country.
Some county attorneys have been unable to stay for council meetings that stretch late into the night because they have to catch flights home to O‘ahu, officials say.
“It’s obvious that we’re not going to get the level of service from the County Attorney’s Office that I would like,” Councilman Mel Rapozo said.
He suggested increasing the special counsel fund in the council services budget from the proposed $12,000 to $100,000.
“Is that the perfect system? No, but I’m a realist,” Rapozo said.
The council compromised at $75,000 total, a $63,000 jump.
The attorney’s office budget for special counsel remained the same as proposed in March at $1.2 million.
“We need to develop a working relationship of mutual respect,” Councilman Tim Bynum said, adding that trading blows with the attorney’s office needs to stop at some point.
The county often hires outside legal counsel for expertise in areas such as transient vacation rentals and shoreline setbacks. It has also contracted special counsel because of staffing shortages at the attorney’s office.
Bus budget gets boost
Beyond special counsel discussion, the council agreed with the mayor’s recommendation to add $425,000 to expand bus service during peak traffic times.
Noting the public testimony in support of this “social justice issue,” Bynum urged the council to add an additional $350,000 to extend bus service to 9 p.m. to help residents who work evening jobs.
“There’s a growing percentage of the population dependent on the bus,” he said.
Bynum’s proposal failed to find the five votes necessary to add money to the mayor’s proposed budget.
Council members said the transportation agency needs to first submit a long-term plan and could be overwhelmed by the huge increase.
“The need is just going to increase more and more,” Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura said. “I feel like we’re in a semi-emergency situation. It’s better to be ready than reactive.”
Aside from helping residents travel from point A to point B, as Councilman Jay Furfaro said, the council approved more money to put food on the tables of those who need it most.
The council approved a $58,000 one-time grant to give more time to the Food Bank to find additional funding to continue its program to assist elderly and disabled residents.
It also signed off on the administration’s proposed $100,000 increase to help more community members receive home-delivered meals.
The council continues its decision-making process on the budget at 9 a.m. today at the Historic County Building. Discussion will include the proposed $65.2 million supplemental capital improvement programs budget.
For more information, visit www.kauai.gov.
• Nathan Eagle, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) or email@example.com