Community activist Fern Anuenue Holland, who organized an abortive online petition drive to force indicted County Councilmember Arthur Brun from office, said Friday she had started collecting actual signatures on paper petition documents instead.
Holland conceded that her initial attempt to launch the anti-Brun petition stumbled because the County Charter makes no provision for use of an online petition — as opposed to paper documents with actual signatures affixed — to oust Brun.
Brun was arrested Feb. 27, along with 11 other people, and charged with running an island-wide methamphetamine-distribution ring. The counts are all federal crimes, and Brun is currently in custody in Honolulu. He was arraigned the day after his arrest, and a federal judge denied bail at a separate hearing on March 4.
An electronic copy of Holland’s petition can be found on The Garden Island’s website at: www.thegardenisland.com. Holland said signature-gathering has begun, but she has no organizational structure to rely on to provide signature-gatherers. She said she and others are distributing copies of the document and that completed forms can be mailed to her at: P.O. Box 1996, Kapaa, HI 96746.
The cumbersome process of creating the petition and collecting actual signatures is necessitated by Section 23.13 of the County Charter, which provides for impeachment of officials for “malfeasance, misfeasance or nonfeasance in office.”
There is no known previous use of that section of the charter to impeach a county official, said Scott Sato, deputy county clerk.
The process requires gathering the signatures of at least 5% of Kaua‘i registered voters — about 2,200 people. Each signature is subject to individual verification, and only registered voters’ signatures will be deemed valid.
Holland initially organized an online petition on change.org, which by Friday had gathered a claimed 1,723 electronic signatures.
If an impeachment petition receives the required number of verified written signatures, the matter would be turned over to the Fifth Circuit Court to determine if the allegations had been substantiated.
The charter provides no other way to remove Brun against his will. Even though he is charged with multiple federal felonies, he is presumed innocent until he is found or pleads guilty. The charter gives the county no authority to even suspend Brun unless he is convicted. He continues to draw his full salary of $5,261 per month.
In Brun’s case, Holland’s petition is predicated on what it describes as Brun’s “historic and ongoing absences from council and committee meetings and inappropriate behavior that has resulted in the loss of confidence by voters that Councilmember Brun is able to effectively and responsibly execute his position.”
The timeframe in which the court would act is not clear from the County Charter language. However, since gathering enough signatures may be time-consuming and the verification process would require at least several days, the prospect of an impeachment actually removing Brun before his current term ends in December is unclear.
Brun could also resign his seat, but he has not done so as he awaits further action in U.S. District Court.
But Holland said that the actual prospect of removing Brun via impeachment before his term is up is not why the petition drive is important. “For me, it’s about holding government accountable for the expectations we have for the way things work,” she said.
“It seems like no one but the voters can do this, and a lot of people feel this is not something that can just be allowed to stick.”
But she said she is equally concerned that, with Brun essentially permanently absent from the council, the body has no choice but to consider legislation with the prospect that any particular measure could result in a 3-3 tie vote and leave the council unable to act.
“It’s also about how important that seventh seat is,” she said. “It’s about the integrity of our County Council and the role it plays and forcing the people to continue to pay for an empty seat for someone who has violated the trust of the community. It sets a bad example for anyone, and children in the next generation, and (failing to act to remove Brun) shows that we’ve turned a blind eye.”
Holland’s petition listed the dates of each County Council and committee meeting Brun has missed since Jan. 1, 2019. The list shows an absence pattern that began long before Brun was arrested. He has missed about a third of all of the scheduled council and committee meetings in the period in question.
Jan TenBruggencate, vice chair of the county Charter Review Commission, speaking as an individual and not in his county capacity, was cautious in his evaluation of Holland’s petition drive, noting that the requirements for signature-gathering and mandatory court review may mean the push has begun too late to have any practical effect.
“It remains to be seen what can be accomplished starting this just six months from a scheduled election,” TenBruggencate said.
He said the Charter Review Commission could consider offering an amendment to facilitate removal of councilmembers accused of misbehavior or criminal activity. But TenBruggencate noted that any changes the commission might propose would have to be approved by voters, which could not occur before election day this year — too late to have any practical effect on Brun’s situation.
The federal arrest was not the only legal trouble in which Brun has found himself. He was arrested twice last year after traffic-related incidents, including one in which he was charged with felonies for injuring a Kaua‘i Police Department officer who tried to stop his car in Lihu‘e in October. As he fled, Brun allegedly threw a bag containing about a pound of methamphetamine from his car.
On March 4, the county charges were dismissed, apparently to give priority to the massive federal prosecution that included a ring of alleged co-conspirators that was said to be related to a Samoan gang.
Holland has been an activist fixture on Kaua‘i for several years. She was heavily involved in the fight over Bill 2491, which sought to ban genetically modified organism agriculture and most pesticide use from the island six years ago.
She is an administrative associate at the Hawai‘i Alliance for Progressive Action, an umbrella group founded by former County Councilmember and former state Sen. Gary Hooser after a federal judge invalidated the anti-GMO ordinance.
Allan Parachini is a Kilauea resident, furniture-maker, journalist and retired public relations executive who writes periodically for The Garden Island.