LIHUE — The county Board of Ethics voted Tuesday to allow a member of the county’s Boards and Commissions to testify on behalf of a private company before a government body.
“Under the current ruling, I would have resigned my status as a member of the Planning Commission to appear (before the Kauai County Council on behalf of Kauai Coffee),” said Wayne Katayama, who is the president and general manager of Kauai Coffee and also the chair of the Kauai Planning Commission.
Councilman Gary Hooser formally requested last month Katayama’s presence at a council meeting to answer questions related to the potential impacts of Bill 2491 on Kauai Coffee. The bill proposes extensive buffer zones for large agricultural operations and demands disclosure of pesticide use and genetically modified crops.
However, Section 20.02 (D) of the Kauai County Charter states that no “officer or employee” of the county shall “appear in behalf of private interests before any county board, commission or agency.”
In an Aug. 12 letter asking for the board’s opinion, Katayama said he understands that in prior advisory opinions, the board took a “strict interpretation” of the charter. He was seeking clarity as to whether there would be a conflict of interest if he honors the council’s request.
When asked Tuesday by Board Secretary Warren Perry if he would be representing Kauai Coffee before the council, Katayama answered, “I will be.”
“The nature of the Bill 2491 puts certain prohibitions on the way we currently do business,” Katayama said.
Board members went behind closed doors for a brief executive session with a county attorney. Upon returning into the open, board member Mark Hubbard made a motion to allow Katayama to appear before the council as long as he would do so as a private citizen, and would not answer questions related to impacts of Bill 2491 on Kauai Coffee.
“My role as president, general manager of Kauai Coffee is to address policy issues that affect the ongoing operations of the business,” said Katayama.
In this case, he said, the bill does impact the company. To limit his participation as an individual would not provide the right information, and for him to delegate responsibility to someone else at Kauai Coffee would not be proper, Katayama said.
Hubbard’s motion to limit Katayama’s testimony only received Perry’s support. Board member Brad Nagano abstained from the vote. Chair Kathy Clark, Vice Chair Calvin Murashige and members Kurt Akamine and Paul Weil voted against it.
With the discussion back on the table, Akamine made a motion stating the board would not prohibit Katayama from appearing before the council as a representative for Kauai Coffee. Murashige amended the motion to include that Katayama’s testimony would be by request of the council.
Akamine’s motion passed with six votes; Hubbard was the only no vote.
The council will meet with county attorneys at 9 a.m. today for an executive session on Bill 2491. The council will allow 18 minutes of testimony on a first-come, first-serve basis prior to the session.
On Monday, the council’s Economic Development (Agriculture) Committee, of which Hooser is the chair, will meet to discuss Bill 2491 and potentially introduce amendments. The meeting is at the Historic County Building in Lihue, starting at 9 a.m. The public is allowed to testify.
• Léo Azambuja, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0452 or email@example.com