Unfortunately, if the meeting held by the incoming council is any indication, our newly elected Kauai County Council is starting off on the wrong foot. And/or they are stepping in it, depending on the preferred metaphor.
The “Councilmember-Elect” meeting held on Monday was in and of itself questionable as to the transparency of its intent and perhaps its very legality as per the Sunshine Law governing such things.
Apparently public notice of the meeting was posted in advance, as required by law, but via a piece of paper stuck to the bulletin board in the county building. The normal “mass email notice” that is provided for every other council meeting did not occur. At least mine never came.
In addition, unlike every other meeting of the council, this particular one was not broadcast live via Hoike, nor was there any official video recording made. Fortunately some intrepid members of the public did capture the proceedings and streamed them live on Facebook.
For context, this was supposed to be the meeting before the formal meeting, but after the “real” meeting.
The Sunshine Law says these types of decisions and their deliberations have to be made in public. Since these deliberations had clearly already been made in private (Watch the Facebook stream. It is obvious), the meeting on the 26th was needed to provide the public some opportunity to testify on these appointments, which had already been agreed upon in private among at least a majority of the various councilmembers-elect at a prior meeting or meetings (held one-on-one or in smaller groups over beer or coffee or whatever).
The final meeting where the decisions will be formally voted on and legally validated does not occur until Dec. 3.
The purpose of the meeting held on the 26th was ostensibly to provide the public with an opportunity to state their opinions on decisions that had already been made in prior confidential (i.e., secret) meetings and to let the community vent their frustrations at a meeting that was not shown on television (as are all other meetings). I imagine the hope was also to avoid a scene at the formal inaugural meeting where the actual vote will occur.
I first became aware of the tumultuous nature of the meeting on the 26th, when I received a text from a friend in attendance who said simply, “OMG Gary you should be here, it is a veritable ship show.” She then explained that the meeting was like a ship tossing in the ocean, bouncing in all directions. Apparently the room was packed with members of the community waiting to testify and some guy had taken possession of the public microphone while giving testimony, refusing to give it up and demanding to be arrested.
From there the meeting went downhill. I managed to find the Facebook stream and watched portions of it while parked at the side of the road (i.e., avoiding texting and driving). The public testimony was overwhelmingly in support of Councilmember Mason Chock being the new chair of the council.
Numerous individuals pointed out that he was not just the top vote-getter in the recent election, but also the most balanced and least divisive member with the experience needed to do the job.
Many others took to the microphone to point out the inherent conflict of interest presented by the appointment of Councilmember Arryl Kaneshiro who is an executive with the Grove Farm Land Company, one of the largest landowners and real estate development companies in Kauai County.
After the public was done, the meeting continued in a rather predictable manner, as each councilmember-elect spoke briefly about how they felt and indicated who they would support as the new chair of the council as well as vice chair and the various committee chairs and membership on those committees.
It became painfully clear that all of these decisions had been made ahead of time when the newly elected (via straw poll only) chair, passed out the information naming all the various chairs of the committees and their members.
As had been previously predicted, Councilmember-elect KipuKai Kualii rejoined his former council faction, voting in support of Councilmember Arryl Kaneshiro to be the new chair, and making the nomination for Councilmember Ross Kagawa to be the new vice chair.
The only real surprise of the evening was that Kualii was joined by Councilmember-elect Luke Evslin who also voted in support of Kaneshiro to be the new chair, while Councilmember-elect Felicia Cowden voted in opposition.
The whole thing was a bit of a charade really, ostensibly intended to satisfy the Sunshine Law, provide some semblance of transparency and make the public feel as if their participation mattered. Frankly, most in attendance I am sure found it offensive at best.
True leadership would set aside ego and seek a compromise. However, the reality of the numbers is that the leadership needed to accomplish this can only come via the Kagawa faction. Two of those 5 votes must step up and broker a settlement that is inclusive, that minimizes the conflict- of-interest issues, and that maximizes the strengths and talents of every councilmember.
There is still time for this council to come to its senses, calm the seas and steady the ship.
Otherwise the show will no doubt continue, with the next installment occurring on Dec. 3 at noon at the Kauai War Memorial Convention Hall. The public is, of course, invited.
Gary Hooser formerly served in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kauai County Council and was former director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control. He serves presently in a volunteer capacity as board president of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (HAPA) and is executive director of the Pono Hawaii Initiative.