Council meetings, actions, certainly are most curious

“Curiouser and curiouser” said Alice in Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass.” She could have been talking about the Kauai County Council Aug. 3 meeting.

One of the agenda items for the meeting was the protracted litigation between the mayor and the Police Commission over the power to discipline the police chief. The opinion from the Intermediate Court of Appeals was logical and it applied a reasonable construction of the Kauai Charter and, perhaps more importantly, nearly universal practice in concluding that the Police Commission, which has the power to hire and fire the chief, should also have the power to impose discipline if deemed necessary.

It was obvious from the discussion at the meeting that most of the council members lacked sympathy for the mayor’s overreaching position and the fact that he had used most of the county money (really the taxpayer’s money) spent on the case to date.

So the council denied approval of the funding for the mayor’s contemplated appeal of the case to the Hawaii Supreme Court. The council action does not prevent the mayor from appealing but it means that the mayor cannot use taxpayer funds to do so. Maybe he will seek to use the county attorney for his appeal.

The mayor has considerable leverage because he selects and can fire the county attorney. County Attorney Trask acknowledged at the meeting that representing the mayor would be difficult. He understated his problem. The Police Commission is his client and legal ethics precludes representing an adversary party in litigation against a client. Then the council underscored its anti-mayor stance by approving funding for the Police Commission in the event of a mayoral appeal. The council determinations likely reflected the popular view and it is to be hoped that the mayor will consider the absence of citizen support and fail to pursue his appeal.

Another matter on the meeting agenda was a resolution seeking state legislative action to specifically name the county manager as an office exempt from the civil service requirements imposed on most of our county employees except for the top level.

At an earlier meeting In June, the Council had ended its year-long examination of the county manager issue with the votes of council members, Kagawa, Kaneshiro Kualii, and Rapozo, in part because it seemed there was a legal issue as to the manager position under civil service. (In fact, all that needed to be done to avoid the civil service issue is to, have, as many jurisdictions elsewhere have done, is to establish a department for the manager to head.)

So the resolution seemed more like a post-mortem requiem. It should be remembered that county manager advocates did not ask for personal support of the system by the council members, they only sought that the members should allow a proposal be given to the voters to decide about the system. This the council members could not bring themselves to do.

Another matter which should have been on the Aug. 3 agenda but was not warrants discussion.

In June, the council chair sent a scathing communication to the council concerning conduct by four transfer stations in violation of state law and the efforts of the administration as to the cover up of payment of $140,000 in fines for such violations.

At that meeting members professed great concern about the matter and talked about investigating the problem and steps that could be taken to prevent future violations. Apart from two executive sessions at which no action can be taken there has been no apparent follow up and one must wonder if the council is mired in an election year paralysis afraid to take the appropriate steps to initiate an investigation as allowed under Charter section 3,17 to determine the applicable facts and to seek a course that will eventuate in a program to achieve legal compliance and a responsible system to avoid recurrences.

Election time is coming. This is when you are empowered to determine who serves on the council. Use it wisely.

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

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