Councilmember Tim Bynum said he hoped yesterday’s Kauai County Council organizational meeting would reflect the voters’ desire to see change, and that the members would respect one another’s aspirations for committee assignments.
Judging by statements made by several members of the council, and by the reactions of the people looking on from the gallery, Bynum’s hopes were not realized.
After a brief public comment from Kekaha resident Bruce Pleas in which he complained that the caucus meeting should be televised, rather than just being open to the public, the committee got down to the business at hand, determining who would chair the council for the next two years.
First, there was the small matter of appointing the temporary presiding officer of the meeting, or presiding officer pro-tem.
Kaipo Asing was elected to the pro-tem position by a four-to-three vote, with Derek Kawakami, Daryl Kaneshiro, Dickie Chang, and Asing voting in favor, and Jay Furfaro, Tim Bynum and Lani Kawahara voting against.
After that, Furfaro, seated at the head of the table, withdrew his nomination for chair, saying that it was evident that the votes for council chair would produce the same four-to-three vote.
Early in the meeting, the council members who supported Furfaro for chair were gracious. Addressing now-chairman Asing directly, Kawahara and Bynum both said that, although they felt Furfaro was better positioned to bring the kind of change, public access and transparency voters seem to be hungry for, they were still happy with Asing as chair and looked forward to his leadership.
Furfaro said that it was no secret that he wanted the chair position for himself, but then warmly extended his support to the council’s most senior member, saying, “It’s important to look unified.”
Not yet a half an hour into the meeting, Asing then assumed his role and moved to the issue of committee assignments.
“Every new council that comes on board has their own (committee) structure. … Not everybody is going to be happy,” he said, turning to address the people in the gallery. “That’s just the nature of the game.”
Copies of the committee structure were then passed around to council members and onlookers. They listed seven committees to be filled: Public Safety/Energy/IGR; Economic Development and Housing; Planning, Parks and Transportation; Public Works and Elderly Affairs; Budget and Finance; and Committee of the Whole.
Budget and Finance and Committee of the Whole include all seven members, each of whom can vote.
The other committees are composed of five voting members and two “ex-officio” members, who don’t get a vote.
On receiving the documents, some of the newest councilmembers appeared taken aback, Lani Kawahara in particular, who immediately called for a recess.
She said that this was the first time she had even seen the document describing the new committee structure, and would like a few moments to review.
After a short break, the meeting was reconvened.
Several of the members expressed concerns about the committee organization. “We don’t have a community assistance committee,” Dickie Chang said.
Furfaro, Bynum and Kawahara each proposed different committee structures, one including repackaging Transportation and Public Works into the same committee.
After meeting resistance, a visibly frustrated council member Bynum suggested that it is not fair that the rest of the council was not privy to the committee assignments process.
Back at the table, Kawahara said she had not been asked anything about how she might like the committees to be organized, and asked councilmember Kaneshiro if he felt the “pre-structured” committees to be in keeping with the idea that the majority rule, but the minority be heard.
“I haven’t heard any reason why it’s no good as it is,” he said.
At one point, Kaneshiro suggested that it was a proposed structure, and that strong arguments for a revision would be heard. Nevertheless, a vote to amend the structure was voted down, three-to-four.
When another document was handed out listing the chair and vice chair of each committee, another recess was requested and granted.
And then another recess, after the third and final sheet was issued, which listed the committees along with every council member’s assignments and positions.
The sheet showed that the three councilmembers who were to vote for Furfaro as chair never appear together in any five-vote committee.
Kaneshiro had mentioned earlier that voting members cannot kill a bill, as the vote outcome produces a “recommendation,” rather than the final word.
When Bynum asked for the reasoning behind Derek Kawakami’s appointment to chair the committee on Public Safety/Energy/IGR, Asing said that, as someone with family and other connections tying him to the Legislature, he was well suited to “bring home the bacon” to Kaua‘i.
Both Kawahara and Bynum suggested different committee structures that would include the entire council as active, voting members, but theirs was a minority position.
As the frustration around the table grew throughout the two hour session, Bynum frankly summed up his take on the afternoons proceeding.
“You get four votes,” he said, speaking to Asing from across the table, “then you get to dictate the rest of the process.” He went on to suggest that, though it was legal, it didn’t seem fair.
At one point in the meeting, the new chair expressed frustration at Kawahara and Bynum.
“You pushed it, and pushed it, and pushed it,” he said to Bynum. “Lani pushed it and pushed it.”
And then, turning to the gallery with his committee assignments in hand, said, “Tim Bynum is on seven committees. It’s there in black and white.”
Several gallery members expressed their surprise and disappointment over what they had seen, some speaking to JoAnn Yukimura, who also attended.
As a long-time student of Kaua‘i politics, Glenn Mickens suggested that exchanges between the councilmembers bordered on the surreal, and suggested that the pre-printing of council committee assignments is, to say the least, unusual. “I’ve been attending these council meetings for 15 years and I’ve never seen it done this way before.”
• Luke Shanahan, business writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 251) or firstname.lastname@example.org