LIHUE — A fight between two people who don’t like each other is how Kauai County Council Vice Chair Ross Kagawa described an email exchange earlier this year between him and a constituent.
The constituent says it’s sad that an elected official, using his government email address, would use profanity and racial insults, in response to his concerns.
As a result, Wailua resident Steve Martin said he is considering legal action.
“This is a sad situation for the island. I can’t believe that our county would allow any councilmember to address anyone in the way he has been allowed to do,” Martin said.
In May, Martin wrote a letter to the editor of The Garden Island about an idea to improve the Kauai Bus system and alleviate some traffic problems. He forwarded the letter to councilmembers.
Kagawa responded from his government email address, writing, “Stupid ridiculous idea go back to the mainland.”
When Martin responded with a curse word and an insult, Kagawa did likewise. He also challenged Martin to “Come to my face and say it you coward.”
Martin threatened to write a letter to Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. and then Kauai Police Chief Darryl Perry about the emails.
In an email to Carvalho’s office, Martin apologized for his use of foul language, but said that Kagawa used his letter to degrade him personally, and that as a public official, Kagawa should not publicly call out anyone in a prejudiced manner.
The 2011 edition of the county’s computer, email and Internet usage policy, for which Kagawa signed an acknowledgment of receipt on Nov. 16, 2012, states that when communicating with others, employees must do so in a professional manner that reflects positively on themselves and the County of Kauai.
The use of computers, Internet and email is a privilege granted by management and may be revoked at any time for inappropriate conduct, including using abusive, profane, threatening, racist, sexist or otherwise objectionable language in either public or private messages.
Sarah Blane, county spokesperson, told TGI that councilmembers are subject to the county email policy, but the Charter of the County of Kauai establishes a separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches of government.
“Mayor is not Councilmember Kagawa’s boss and is unable to exercise any supervision over him or his actions,” she said.
Council Chair Mel Rapozo said a formal complaint has not been filed, so there’s been no investigation into the matter.
“I cannot initiate any kind of investigation on anything,” he said. “At this point we don’t have a complaint, so we cannot.”
Martin declined an interview request for this story, but in an email, he wrote that Kagawa is digging himself into a deeper hole, “with his continuing foul mouth, prejudice comment emails as well as threats.”
In August, the men again exchanged heated emails.
Martin sent another letter to the editor regarding traffic flow and forwarded it to the council.
On Aug. 7, Kagawa responded: “I’m not prejudice against all transplants, only those like you and Raley who only grumble and we’ve been here for generations and you try to degrade us as less intelligent than you (profanity), you.”
He continues: “No worry, I will mention your name and your racist anti-local articles when we hit the forums. You will become popular. This local vs. transplants like you issue is real and it pisses a lot of locals off that you are so arrogant to bring it on I want this to become an issue mother (profanity).”
Two days later, Martin forwarded the emails to the council stating, “Aloha council … pretty sad that we elect and employ individuals like Mr. Kagawa. Pretty sad!”
In a separate email sent on the same day, Martin tells the council that maybe he should forward the emails to the newspaper, “so the public can see the sad behavior of a public official at election time.”
Kagawa responds: “You’re comments called me prejudice on the internet. You started this war with me and then now you cry like a baby?”
In an interview with TGI, Kagawa said Martin has been calling him prejudiced since the county did a cease-and-desist order on a number of Kauai bed-and-breakfasts several years ago.
Kagawa has served on the council since being elected in 2012 and was easily reelected in 2014 and 2016.
He blames TGI for publishing Martin’s online comments and his letters to the editor. He also blames people who move to Kauai and chronically complain about the issues the island faces.
Writing letters to the editor isn’t an effective way of getting results, Kagawa said. If citizens have an idea for a solution to a problem, they should talk to councilmembers in person, he said.
“(But) once you criticize, why would we want to work with that kind of a person?” he said.
The paper is allowing unfair and unbalanced opinions and it causes problems, Kagawa said.
“We need to start heading in a better direction if we want the paper to work more directly with the decision-makers,” he said. “I think we could be more harmonious.”
“Everyone’s got a breaking point. Call someone something for so long, I got fed up with it,” Kagawa said.
Nonetheless, Kagawa said he should have used better words.
“I own up to what I said. We got nowhere with that,” he said. “All we’re getting is an article out of it and I don’t think either of us want to be popular from that.”
Kagawa said he’s not prejudiced.
“Kauai’s a melting pot. We don’t have this racial tension the mainland has. What we have is if people don’t like each other, they don’t like each other,” he said.
Kagawa said there are a lot of issues on Kauai and everyone’s stressed out.
“This next council and mayor has a lot to do because a lot of work has been neglected for the past six years. We need to start addressing some solutions to big problems,” he said.
Being a councilmember is a tough job, he added.
“You never know until you do it. I didn’t know it was going to be close to this hard to take blow after blow. After a while, you get fed up,” he said.
Kagawa said the email exchange was nasty, but he let Martin know how he feels.
“Is it something I’m proud of? No. I can only take so much. I own up. I take responsibility,” he said.
Bethany Freudenthal, crime, courts and county reporter, can be reached at 652-7891 or email@example.com.