Congratulations elections officials — now let’s get to work

On Dec. 1, the ritual biennial seating of the new Kauai County Council was celebrated. Congratulations to the two new members — Arryl Kaneshiro and KipuKai Kualii. The election of Mr. Kualii was particularly welcome after he had been shunted aside for replacing Nadine Nakamura (who joined the administration as managing director) instead of the normal pattern of awarding the seat to the candidate next in line in the prior election. Congratulations also to Mel Rapozo, who was elected council chair, and to Ross Kagawa, who was elected vice-chair, honoring their receiving the most votes of the council candidates in the last election.

Congratulations, too, to Bernard Carvalho on his re-election as mayor, which occurred with a large margin despite his skirmish with HRS 78-9. That section provides for the removal from office of an official who pleads the 5th Amendment on any matter relating to the government.

While Mr. Carvalho has admitted he took this action incident to the audit of county gas practices, he contended the section could not validly be applied to him and no citizen chose to try to enforce it.

In November, Al Castillo resigned as county attorney to return to his law practice. The six-year office tenure of Mr. Castillo was a rather tempestuous one. On Kauai, under the County Charter, the county attorney appointed by the mayor is the chief legal adviser for all agencies including the council. Elsewhere in many places, the county attorney is elected by the voters. On balance, this seems the better arrangement because when conflicts occur, the county attorney has rather uniformly chosen to serve the party who appoints him — the mayor. This tendency was apparent in the instances where the mayor sought to discipline Police Chief Perry and where the mayor opposed the council as to Ordinance 960 and obtained an opinion from Mr. Castillo’s office supporting him. The county attorney office requires both legal and administrative skills. 

During his term in office, Mr. Castillo was on several occasions sharply questioned by the council regarding the quite extensive outside counsel fees incurred in connection with several legal matters affecting the county. Noteworthy has been the 31 executive sessions Mr. Castillo orchestrated with the council concerning ongoing disputes with the county auditor. In consequence of these and other matters there has been more than a little criticism of Mr. Castillo’s performance of his duties.

Mayor Carvalho has nominated Mauna Kea Trask first deputy of the County Attorney Office to become county attorney. Mr. Trask is an articulate and intelligent man. He will face a challenge to make the office of the county attorney the instrument of legal integrity and efficient administration that it should be.

The matter of the adoption of the new rules for the council caused some flurry at the inaugural meeting. It has been the historic practice that the rules and any proposed changes are considered by some councilmembers elect prior to the inaugural meeting and that the proposed rules are submitted for adoption at the initial meeting. Whether this practice complies with the State Sunshine Law is dubious.

It also fails to give the public and the other councilmembers adequate notice of any proposed changes and a reasonable opportunity to express their views. Certain provisions of the rules relating to public testimony were changed this year.

The changes may have been well intentioned, but a better practice would be for the council to hold its initial meeting under the then existing rules and then provide the proposed changes for public comment and adoption at the next meeting.

One change which was made without, in my view, adequate reflection was the elimination of the requirement that a proposed bill must be placed on an agenda within 120 days of its proposal by a councilmember. All members should be able to introduce bills. The new council chair noted correctly that the existing rule mandated consideration of a bill that might be illegal. That problem could have been met by allowing exclusion from the rule for any bill determined by the chair to be illegal. We would then retain the worthy objective of preventing any other measure from being denied access to an agenda.

So a new term for our elected officials has begun. Let us hope that it will be one where our representatives act faithfully in the interests of our people and progress will be made solving problems facing the county.

Walter Lewis is retired attorney who lives on Kauai and writes a regular column for The Garden Island.

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