LIHU‘E — A divided Kaua‘i County Council decided not to pursue having an exclusive attorney, after shelving a resolution Wednesday to include in this year’s election a question if the county should establish an Office of the Council Attorney.
Currently, the county has a County Attorney’s Office, which represents the council and the administration, two distinct bodies.
“I’m not always happy with the county attorney’s opinions, but they’re only opinions,” said Councilman Tim Bynum, adding that the council can choose whether to side with the county attorney’s opinions.
Bynum said he opposed having a council attorney because it would bring “fundamental” changes and consequences.
Council Vice Chair JoAnn Yukimura was also against the idea.
“We’re setting up a division here,” said Yukimura, adding that when a disagreement between the council and the county attorney becomes too large, the council can still take the issue to court by hiring outside counsel.
Council Chair Jay Furfaro, however, said hiring outside counsel needs five out of seven council votes. And besides, the county attorney is the one who will pick up the council’s representation, out of a list of about 10 law firms.
Furfaro said there have been many instances in which he doesn’t think the county attorney can serve two masters, the council and the administration.
“But I don’t think that putting a Chinese Wall would help the situation,” said Furfaro, adding that to try remedy the situation, on May 23 he will introduce a proposal to make it easier for the council to hire outside counsel.
Bynum said he has “been through several county attorneys,” and he is satisfied with the services provided, although not always in agreement with them.
“I think it comes down to some people don’t like this county attorney,” Bynum said.
Councilman KipuKai Kuali‘i said he is on the council to serve the people, and that he doesn’t have a personal problem with the current county attorney.
“How dare you say that?” Kuali‘i said of Bynum’s remarks.
Kuali‘i has been in office for a little over a year — he was unanimously chosen by the council after Councilman Derek Kawakami left to occupy a vacancy in District 14 of the state House of Representatives.
During the year Kuali‘i has served in office, he said he has seen from the county attorney a lack of representation and good information.
“Don’t say we don’t have a problem and that we don’t need representation,” he said.
Councilman Mel Rapozo said Bynum was short of saying “get rid of the county attorney,” and that is not the intent of this bill.
“I really like the county attorney, I think he is a cool guy,” Rapozo said of County Attorney Al Castillo.
The problem, Rapozo said, is that the council needs a county attorney who represents the council rather than one who says he cannot go against the administration’s agenda.
“I can’t discuss executive sessions, but I think we all know what we are talking about here,” Rapozo said.
With clear opposition to the establishment of an Office of the Council Attorney, Rapozo withdrew his motion to approve the resolution and made a second motion to receive it, shelving the proposal indefinitely. Rapozo’s second motion was unanimously approved, despite the split opinions.
• Léo Azambuja, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) or lazambuja@ thegardenisland.com.