A Better Kaua‘i: Remembering Ray Chuan and Horace Stoessel

In September of this year two eminent citizens of our island, Ray Chuan and Horace Stoessel, were lost to this world. Both men recognized flaws in the operations of our county government and devoted countless hours of service to provide their wisdom and guidance to its branches to assist and improve their functioning.

Their lives had interesting parallels. After graduating from college with advance degrees both served as professors. After retiring from distinguished careers in academia both came to live in Kaua‘i in 1988.

Ray Chuan had an active interest in many aspects of our local government and was a regular attendee at our council meetings for many years. He also was deeply involved in the affairs of the community of his residence, Hanalei. He utilized the scientific background his education had provided taking regular samplings of water pollution in Hanalei Bay. In 2002 and 2003 he served as a member of the Mayor’s Task Force on property taxation and made valuable contributions to its recommendations. At this time he also became a candidate for election to the council. While he did not win, he missed by only one or two positions.

Ray deplored governmental secrecy and was deeply concerned about what he considered were undue executive sessions engaged in by the County Council on matters which should have been more openly considered. In 2005 he initiated a lawsuit seeking to require greater openness by the council. For health reasons he was not able to pursue this action to judgment. During his extended tenure in attendance at council meetings and his continued consumer advocacy he was bestowed the sobriquet “nit picker” by the then editor of The Garden Island and he proudly considered the name a badge of honor.

His signature statement in his testimony before the council and the recording Hoike camera was “I am not addressing you members but those (pointing to the camera) watching this meeting.”

The council never forgot this powerful statement. In December 2008 he was honored by the County Council in recognition of his participation in affairs of our county in a ceremony, which included remarks by Kaipo Asing, then chair of the council, and other members praising his dedication.

Horace Stoessel had a keen, selective and practical mind. When contacted for his thoughts on a subject his first words usually were “What is your opinion?” on the matter not offering his until requested and then expressing his knowledge with great perception.

He served on the Salary Commission and mastered its responsibilities so well that he became the recognized expert as to the terms and intent of the Kaua‘i Charter provisions on the Commission. He perceived the multiple advantages that the Council-Manager form of government might bring to our government, and was an early advocate at the Charter Commission for it to be offered for voter decision, but observing the vigorous objection to the concept by County officials he realized its enactment was only remotely possible and he ended his active advocacy of it.

He was acutely conscious of the need for the conduct of our county government officers to conform to the provisions of the Charter and he regularly participated in Ethics Board proceedings involving these matters. His hearing was impaired and he was usually accompanied by his wife, Phyllis, at the sessions. She was invaluable to him in her guidance and note taking, which enabled his frequent follow on commentaries.

Both men made active use of The Garden Island Forum and regularly submitted well considered letters generally related to the matters as to which they had testified in governmental proceedings.

There is little doubt but that our governmental bodies benefit from and need citizen participation to influence their decisions. Too frequently such participation comes primarily from the elders in the community as the meeting sessions are typically too extended for most of our busy residents to appear except on matters where they are personally affected. Both Ray and Horace came to Kaua‘i following the end of their professional careers and were able to devote much of their time to county affairs.

Glenn Mickens who has become a leading consumer advocate for our island and who considers Ray as a mentor for his selfless regular attendance at council meeting told me how much he appreciated the efforts of Ray and Horace who were there to vocally represent the people of our island. His comment can hardly be improved upon when he said “All of us will dearly miss these two champions of the people but their marks on everything they touched will never be forgotten”.

• Walter Lewis is a resident of Princeville and writes a biweekly column for The Garden Island.


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