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Sunshine lawsuit advances

LIHUE — The motion to dismiss a Sunshine Law complaint against the County of Kauai and Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura was denied by Judge Kathleen Watanabe Tuesday afternoon in Fifth Circuit Court.

The county filed a motion to dismiss because allegations it’s facing aren’t supported by facts and are “insufficient to raise its right to relief above the speculative level,” according to court documents.

However, Watanabe said the matter deserves its day in court and those facts — sufficient or not — will be argued at a date that’s yet to be set.

The complaint by Kauai Community Cat Project, filed Sept. 20, stems from two groups that have met behind closed doors to help draft county legislation to address feral cats on Kauai, without public input.

Those two groups are the Feral Cat Task Force (FCTF), which was convened in 2013, and the Feral Cat Ordinance Committee (OC), formed in 2015.

Because Yukimura has been instrumental in convening both the FCTF and the OC, she’s named as a defendant along with the County of Kauai.

Yukimura told TGI on Tuesday that she’d like to comment on the subject, “but have been advised by the attorneys that it is not the appropriate time.”

The County of Kauai declined to comment, as well.

“We were happy and very relieved that the judge denied the county’s motion to dismiss our lawsuit,” said Basil Scott of Kauai Community Cat Project after the decision. “This is important not only for cats but for many people. It affects the way the county operates.”

The county filed a motion to dismiss the complaint on Oct. 17 on grounds that the complaint fails to use facts to allege a violation of the state’s open-meeting laws.

KCCP alleges that these two groups were formed by the Kauai County Council to direct policy development, and that as “boards” or committees of the County Council they are subject to the state’s open-meetings law.

The matter started in 2011 with a resolution introduced by Councilman Mel Rapozo, in support of trap-neuter-release programs to contain feral cats, according to court documents.

The resolution encountered community opposition and the council voted to convene the FCTF for the purpose of “developing a solution to the issue of feral cats on Kauai,” according to the documents.

The FCTF created a final report through a series of meetings, closed to the public, with the purpose of developing policy on feral-cat management, and with that the FCTF was disbanded.

The OC was created in 2015 by Yukimura when she sent out a letter to selected members of the public inviting them to sit on a Feral Cat Ordinance Committee, according to documents.

KCCP alleges that the “work of the FCTF was effectively rolled over into the OC, which took the draft ordinance developed by the FCTF as a starting point for policy deliberations,” according to documents, and the two groups shared members.

The county maintains those two groups should be seen as two separate entities, acting independently of each other.

“We have a group here tasked to give the council information and it was given two years ago,” said deputy county attorney, Teresa Tumbaga, who is representing the county and Yukimura in the case. “The FCTF is a separate entity and they’d (KCCP) like this to be seen as one group.”

Whether these two entities can be viewed as the same group and whether they are committees of the Kauai County Council remains to be decided.

“Since there are many legal aspects, no one could know how the judge would decide. It was very suspenseful,” Scott said. “We are happy that the legal process can continue. Whatever happens in the long run, we hope that our efforts in this case will lead to more openness and public involvement in Kauai government.”

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