Outspoken opinions on unspoken actions in county government

A rather remarkable book on Kaua‘i political affairs was published this year. Entitled “KPD Blue” it is written by Anthony Sommer who for nearly 10 years was the reporter assigned to cover our island by a Honolulu newspaper.

Tony is an experienced journalist who came here after writing for a leading Arizona paper for almost 30 years. The book offers comments on matters from his perspective on events that occurred during his tenure here.

It cannot be considered authoritative on the conditions and people mentioned as it fails to provide any source citations for statements made, but it is a lively and entertaining work that offers intriguing observations through a reporter’s eyes of the impact of Kaua‘i’s culture on the operations of our government.

The primary focus of the book is on the Kaua‘i Police Department. It seeks to portray the interaction of the mayors and council on the police function and its chiefs and the struggles within the department. The author’s subtitle for his book is “A decade of racism, sexism and political corruption in and all around the Kaua‘i Police Department.”

The book opens with the well-known 1995 lap-dancing episode in a Kaua‘i and Honolulu police investigation of prostitution. It is claimed that echoes of it have resonated ever since.

The author states that that the prevailing culture promotes sexism and notes that only five of the 140 Kaua‘i police officers are women although much higher percentages are nearly universal elsewhere.

The author discusses what he considers to be the racist nature of the Kaua‘i culture and states that, although about 40 percent of the island population is haole, there are only 8 percent in the makeup of county employees, with the predominant bloc being Filipino. He attributes the winning of the 1998 mayoral election by Maryanne Kusaka over Mary Thronas to racially indiscreet remarks by Thronas about Filipinos in the county government.

A major segment of the book is devoted to an account of the manipulations used to oust George Freitas and K.C. Lum from their positions as chiefs of police. The intrigues reported involving senior members of the police force, the police commission members, mayors Kusaka and Baptiste and council members make fascinating reading.

In the case of both Freitas and Lum it appears to the author that their principal delinquency was failing to be born on Kaua‘i which is suggested to be the prime requirement for the job. This deficiency made them haoles and therefore unsuitable under Kaua‘i culture. The author referred to their removal as being “ethnic cleansing” in the view of some county officials.

Several chapters in the book under the caption “A stampede to the courthouse” relate to claims asserted against the county by several members of the police force. The cases were based on alleged sexual abuse or discrimination. The lawsuits were filed in federal court in Honolulu.

The author states that the reason for this was because the sitting judge in the county circuit court was a politician first and then a jurist who would be favorable to the county. Uniformly, the county retained special counsel from Honolulu for its defense. The author notes that all of the cases except the still pending one brought by former Chief Lum were settled, usually for substantial amounts and involved undisclosed counsel fees.

The author is not reluctant to state his view that governmental corruption exists on our island. One target for his remarks is the county Ethics Board which he says is not the champion of the public interest and adds that its members remain the mayor’s appointed stooges. His account of the Ethics Board’s role in support of the mayor’s efforts to displace K.C. Lum as police chief is captivating reading.

Passages in the book cover the propensity of the county government to carry out their functions without public access or disclosure. The author expresses his frustration as a reporter when the county officials fail to provide documents which are by law to be publicly available. He identifies the county attorney as one who always says that what the mayor does is legal, even if it is not, and acts as a guardian for non-disclosure.

Another sore point with the author was the unwillingness of the Hawai‘i press to engage in investigative reporting and to demand the access to public records to which it is entitled.

The book ends with the observation that accountability to the public does not exist in Kaua‘i because that’s the way the mayor and the council want it. The author then quotes Robert Caro who said “power reveals the true nature of those who attain it.”

For anyone interested in Kaua‘i County affairs and wanting to have some outspoken opinions about them, the book is reading that will hold your attention. It is now available at county bookstores, but interestingly I am informed that it is not in our libraries. Apparently the state library offices are not able to classify works of this nature.

• Walter Lewis is a Princeville resident who writes a bi-weekly column for The Garden Island. Editor’s Note: This column will return to its regular Saturday slot on Dec. 13.

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