Council should look into county money transfer

The Kauai County Council Committee meeting of June 29 agenda included a communication from Council Chair Rapozo concerning violations by the operations of the county’s transfer stations of state law and an apparent attempted cover up by the administration of the payment of the fines imposed.

Testimony at the meeting from the acting county engineer whose presence was requested by the communication disclosed that the the health code violations were continuing, were known to the transfer station staff and the solid waste disposal management, and that corrective steps were limited and inadequate. Fines of about $140,000 had been imposed by the state for September 2014 violations. It was estimated that it would cost up to $2 million to install necessary work to end the violations.

It was reprehensible for solid waste management to permit county operations to knowingly be in violation of state law. And for the mayor to fail to require compliance with state law (See Kauai Charter section 7.05 L).

But perhaps the greater deficiency was the attempt by the administration to cause payment of the imposed fines by surreptitious reallocation of the public works department budget without informing the public or the council.

Although county financial procedures require that authorizations for such payments must be approved by the department head, the finance director and the mayor, the actual request for payment document included only the department head signature with the purported signatures by the finance director and the mayor being made by one person’s illegible scrawl.

The outrage by the council because of this administration lawless and irresponsible behavior is entirely justified.

An element of the council concern is the obvious disinclination of the administration to provide information to the council about the matter.

When the violation notice which called for payment within 20 days was received, apparently no thought was given to advising the state that time was required to give notifications and to obtain needed approval. Instead a request for payment approval was processed without all the required signatures.

The Kauai County Charter contains Section 3.17 which authorizes the council to investigate “the operation of any agency or function of the county and any subject upon which the council may legislate.” At no time in recent years has this section been invoked although there have been many instances of failures of county departments to manage effectively the scope of their responsibilities and illumination of the deficiencies and identification of the corrective steps would have been useful.

So why has the council never acted to use Section 3.17’s investigative powers? No clear answer is ever given. It appears that the council prefers to avoid confrontation with the administration and has been content to leave the interests of the taxpayer unprotected. In the current situation, an investigation under Sec. 3.17 is unquestionably the best tool to use.

I understand thought is being given to retaining an accounting firm to audit the circumstances involved. If full cooperation would be given by the administration this could be an acceptable choice.

But only under Section 3.17 are the legal enforcement tools which may be needed if there is recalcitrance. It would be unwise not to take the safe course.

It is time for the council to end its weak kneed posture and perform its appropriate role. But the June 29 meeting ended inconclusively with the agenda item being received (killed) but with a mention of it being further considered at a later date.

It seems to me that there is little doubt but that an investigation with the aid of experienced counsel could result in findings that would enable reversing the administrative propensity for tolerating illicit conduct by county personnel and establishing procedures and practices that would assure that the public and the council would become aware of any pattern of conduct by county employees that is contrary to applicable law.

Perhaps an investigation might even instill an attitude that it is preferable to meet legal requirements instead of trying to weasel around them.

But a prompt and constructive action requires a diligent council and an active leader. Will this happen? Or will this misbehavior be allowed to fade away? We can only watch and see.

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

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