Communication breakdown

  • Contributed

    Ross Kagawa is vice chair of the Kaua‘i County Council.

  • Contributed

    Mayor Derek Kawakami

LIHU‘E — Kaua‘i councilmembers have expressed their frustrations over the lack of transparency of the mayor’s administration in responding to COVID-19.

Councilmembers voiced their concerns last week at a council meeting.

“The administration wants us to appropriate money, they come over and are nice and talk to us about what they want but (then) it’s back to being a dictatorship,” council Vice Chair Ross Kagawa said. “I don’t feel the teamwork.”

In the past two months, Mayor Derek Kawakami has created, amended and lifted 10 local rules, as well as implemented a four-day work week for county employees, established an Economic Recovery Strategy Team, and set up shop at the Kaua‘i Emeregency Management Agency’s Emergency Operations Center. Coucilmember Felicia Cowden said she went to visit the EOC and was “told to not come back.”

“We are elected officials. It is an erosion of democracy to not include us,” Cowden said during Wednesday’s meeting, talking to county Office of Economic Development Director Nalani Brun in regards to the strategy teams.

Kawakami acknowledged the lack of communication, pointing to the need to quickly make decisions and his authority and duty as mayor to make them.

“A lot has happened in a very short amount of time,” Kawakami wrote in a statement to The Garden Island. “We acknowledge that under normal circumstances, we would have time to adequately inform, deliberate and make decisions alongside the council. But this is not a political process. This is a pandemic, and we are in an emergency. We have to act quickly in order to protect life and safety.”

Kawakami and his administration has had to make adjustments to plans when state or federal actions shake out in real time, often at the last minute.

“Further, many decisions from the state and federal level happen at a moment’s notice and can leave the administration a very short window to execute and implement an operational plan. In that respect, I share the council’s frustration in not having adequate time to effectively communicate,” Kawakami said.

Former mayor JoAnn Yukimura’s administration faced its own relationship issues with the council of that time, and when she was a councilmember as well.

“It is not for me to say whether the perceptions coming from the present council are accurate because I don’t have an insider’s view or information,” Yukimura said. “All I can say is that when I was mayor, I didn’t pay enough attention to building my relationship with the council. Building a relationship requires good communication that builds trust.”

She recalled one event during Hurricane ‘Iniki recovery where she needed council approval for restructuring building codes. Yukimura remembers the meeting lasting until 1 a.m., but it gave the council the opportunity to ask questions and for the administration to come together on the code.

“Good communication on the part of the mayor means conferring with councilmembers, where possible, prior to taking action, explaining one’s reasons for the actions taken and listening and responding to council’s concerns and perspectives,” she said.

“The council also has a responsibility to try to understand the mayor’s position before reacting or opposing his or her proposal or approach. That requires a lot of honest and respectful dialogue.”

Nearly every day, the mayor has shared videos underscoring the county’s COVID-19 response, providing information to residents. “Our highest priority throughout this pandemic has been to communicate with the public the best that we are able to ensure they receive timely updates, and we have done daily video updates since our first positive case,” Kawakami said.

Because these videos take precedent, elected officials are receiving the updates concurrently with the public. Councilmember Luke Evslin noted that there have been times he’s learned about new rules via the newspaper the next day.

“I fully acknowledge that many times our legislators are made aware of this information at the same time as the general public, and I appreciate their patience with us and their ongoing support,” Kawakami said, affirming that he and his staff are always available for council discussion when requested. “I also respect their request for more timely communication, and they have my commitment to improve in that area.”

Frustrated Kagawa said he would like more checks and balances.

“The mayor has the final call, but if we’re going to be yelled at by the public for not helping them, at least include us in coming up with some of the decisions,” Kagawa said.

“I know it’s a lot easier not to have people like me saying ‘no’ and everybody else saying ‘yes’ and Felicia wanting to talk for five minutes and nobody wanting to wait five minutes. It’s a lot easier, but it’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing that deserves thinking outside of the box and allowing the legislative side to bring what we have.”


Sabrina Bodon, public safety and government reporter, can be reached at 245-0441 or

  1. heironymus May 25, 2020 2:31 pm Reply

    This pilikia would be unnecessary if the county had a plan in place. What are the plans for the next hurricane, tsunami or pandemic? Many of our current civil servants have been in office or appointed positions for years and now the finger pointing after the fact. Look forward not back.

  2. WestsideResident May 25, 2020 2:59 pm Reply

    Highschool level politics.

  3. Random jerk May 25, 2020 3:09 pm Reply

    I can see the council would like an opportunity to be part of the defense and recovery, especially now that the life threatening danger is over. However, the best thing they can do, and what I encourage everyone to thank them for, is to step aside and allow for a dynamic, powerful, and temporary central authority from the mayor’s office. Voters don’t need a committee to check that authority, we can do it ourselves.

    Every crisis is also an opportunity, and if we middle, waffle, placate, or appease we will miss those opportunities. There is a place for governance by committee, and it is not times like these. Times like these require a Caesar so that we can return to effective committee governance.

  4. Everythingisawesome May 25, 2020 3:35 pm Reply

    Celebrity Mayor Prevents Hurricane Disaster

    (The following is satire, mixed with a little truth. Names have been changed to protect the guilty. If you didn’t figure that out, or thought you would find ‘news’ down here in the comments, you should be required to wear a cone on your head in public)

    Mayor Kauaikame has extended his emergency proclamation until December 1st of 2020 in response to NOAA expectations of an average hurricane season. The proclamation gives the Mayor unilateral authority over life on the island in order to respond in a timely manner and make life-or-death decisions for island residents. A new rule will be implemented starting on June 1st which will require head protection to be worn by visitors and residents whenever in public to provide protection against random flying debris. Later this week, the Mayor will have a ‘how-to’ video on his Instagram showing how to make your own head protection at home using an orange traffic cone and a surfboard leash. When asked, the mayor could not confirm the rumors that retired contra-flow cones would be available for purchase by the general public. For obvious reasons, head protection will not be required when in your private vehicle with members of your immediate family.

    Though questioned by some as being entirely irrational response to a threat that has yet to materialize, at a Zoom based press conference held Saturday the Mayor explained the rationale behind his decision, “Michelle Duhilig said it would be a good idea. She went to college, so, I think that speaks for itself. Health Officer Bearingman also agrees that the head coverings are a good idea because his son saw it done in a movie where there were sharks thrown into the air by a tornado. Those with head coverings were the popular people in the movie and they survived. This hurricane is going to be deadly and we need to do everything we can, even die if necessary, to protect our most vulnerable, so that none of us die. We are all equally at risk; head trauma doesn’t just happen to those that have weak heads to being with. Rest assured, Kauai, as your Mayor I will do what is best for our island and make sure nobody dies. Ever. I will need as many of you as possible to be eligible voters when I run for Governor. Some argue that there is no evidence that things from one person’s head can strike out at another person’s head during a hurricane but we can never be too ‘safe’. Some people have things being blown off their heads and don’t even know it, endangering those within 6 feet of them. Some people think otherwise; I call these people ‘Hurr-idiots.’ Remember, my cone hat protects you, and your cone hat protects me. Also, please follow me on Instagram.”

    When asked about the justification behind the emergency proclamation extension, he had this to say, “Is this emergency extension justified? I think so. By asking the question, it sounds like you are second guessing me, which I don’t appreciate. When computer models showed a chance that 12 billion people would die from COVID-19 and we reacted it set a precedent that threats to public health and safety are of highest priority even when the threat is neither credible nor corroborated. We do what we can, not what we should. Some say there is no hurricane here but we need to follow the science. It might be here and we just don’t know it.”

    Karen from Kapahi gives the Mayor her full support, “I voted for, and believe in our Mayor and I don’t have a problem with him asking us to all cover our heads if it saves even one life. Why haven’t we been doing this all along? It seems obvious. My husband, Neil and I moved here 18 years ago, to make a difference after Iniki and we don’t support the telescope. We would also like to see all the TVRs shut down to make things more sustainable. I reported my neighbor the other day for non-essential travel because he made two back-to-back trips to Costco. He said, ‘his prescription wasn’t ready’ when KPD came by his house. He lies! Just doing my part to fit in. I will say, until there is a test available to diagnose previous head trauma, I just can’t see things going back to normal.”

    Ikaika, who resides in Anahola had similar sentiments, “I was born and raised on Kauai. We make our own rules. Our Mayor has done a good job protecting us. Good job, Mayor! Flying coconut to the gut is no big deal but if it hit you in da head? Ohhh, bruddah. Anyone who doesn’t cover their head is being selfish cuz stuff gets blown off your head and hit someone elses head. If you no wear cone on your head, I hope you get hit and you should not be aloud to use the ER at the Wilcox. No can trust. All it takes is one stupidhead not wearing a cone. You tink job or beach is mo bettah den not wear a cone? You lolo. If you no like the rules, go back home. My cone protects orange and your cone is blue!”

    No doubt the Mayor’s message will become clearer with daily repetition.

    The new head protection rule has already been credited for saving countless lives. “Hurricanes have always hurled things through the air. They wait until they see someone vulnerable, such as without head protection, and BAM! I can’t in good conscience allow any more unnecessary deaths due to head trauma. Our hospital is tiny, and we only have 4 ice packs available to treat this type of injury. Some have asked, “Why not get more ice packs?” We are a small island with limited resources and this isn’t something we can plan for. I also don’t think it’s fair to ask the people of Kauai to share their ice packs with visitors. I mean, transient taxes and facility use fees aren’t going to pay for new ice packs!” Said Kauaikame.
    When pressed further on the issue of tourism returning to previous levels, Kauaikame had this to say, “Nobody I have talked to is eager to have tourists return. At a minimum, tourists will need a note from a head trauma specialist certifying that they do not have head trauma before they board a plane to our island, and Governor Seagate will be authorizing the National Guard to ‘rough up’ those that do not submit to additional testing after they land within Hawaii’s borders. We will not be supplying them with head protection; they will need to bring their own or we will send them back. Besides, now that horseback riding, ATV tours and zip-lining is allowed, we don’t need tourist dollars to keep our economy going.”
    The Mayor is expected to make an announcement regarding the Keiki returning to school in the fall but some have already voiced concerns that, given the possibility of head trauma injuries in the past, “it just isn’t safe to send them (Keiki) back to overcrowded classrooms until we have a bunch of rules in place for their safety. Sending them back too early would be just like sending them back last year, or the year before that, or the year before that when they could have gotten head lice or chicken pox. It’s better if they stay home. Indoors, even. We have a clean record of zero Keiki head injuries. I have seen comments in the newspaper, I check the online version every day, trying to credit the lack of detected head injuries in Keiki to their smaller heads and quicker reflexes but that just doesn’t make any sense, or give credit to, me. It must be due to my acting early, yesterday in fact, and staying vigilant. It’s the only logical explanation we have.”

    When asked if the county council was aware of the new rule, Kauaikami responded “Due to the urgency required to address this threat, I did not have time to consult with other elected officials or people who know stuff. But, we’re all in this together, and we will get through this together, so I’m pretty sure they would support me. Keep in mind, this thing will be here in a month or two so we can’t waste precious seconds debating whether the threat exists, alternative approaches to addressing the threat, or concepts like personal responsibility.”

    1. thank you for that May 26, 2020 7:45 am Reply

      that sums up my views perfectly

    2. KoloaGirl May 26, 2020 8:57 am Reply

      MAHALO to Everythingisawesome for your truthful reporting. Satire? No way Jose, it’s all bonafide. Thank you for your comments that a lot of people are in agreement with but are too scared to say. This whole thing is gonna make a great movie something.

    3. Ono Chah Berga May 26, 2020 10:09 am Reply

      Beautiful. I saved a copy of this.

    4. Arienfire May 26, 2020 2:22 pm Reply

      OMG that was GOLD.

    5. Snitch from Kauai May 27, 2020 11:38 pm Reply

      This IS his Iniki give the man his moment!… Let’s milk it till his tik tok hits 1Million followers.

  5. Barry Dittler May 25, 2020 9:29 pm Reply

    Everything, that is priceless !! It sums up, in a satirical way some of the idiotic things that have come out of the Mayors office. You can not B-B-Q on the beach because, and he really said this ” you can spread the virus though food” !! Mr. Mayor, the heat of the BBQ kills the virus. I have never seen ONE statement from any real authority about food spread covid issues !! But, I guess that food from the restaurant is sterile and can’t spread the disease, just from beach BBQ ? Such utter nonsense has been rampant since the beginning. Why was Kauai the ONLY place in the country with a curfew ?? What purpose did it serve ? Several months ago I wrote a letter that was not published, where I called the mayor “our emperor” and complained about his seemingly dictatorial attitude, and the fact that he is simply “polishing his credentials to run for governor”. Glad some others see the real truth . I know that mayor has a lot of support on Kauai and can do not wrong in many peoples eyes. But, we elected a county council to guide the county and they should not be excluded from the conversation and decision making to puff the mayors ego ! With no cases in over 6 weeks, why not start moving back to normal, no more lines to get into Costco, and open our economy up. Yes, continue to protect us from travelers bringing the virus here, but for the residents , you can’t catch something that no one has. You are more likely to catch the flu than covid on Kauai.

    1. False May 27, 2020 12:59 pm Reply

      Or actually spreads through food, saliva etc. get better fact checking skills or use real critical thinking. Geezes

      1. Arienfire May 31, 2020 8:53 pm Reply

        @false… what??? Who’s spitting on food? 🤣🤣🤣 and it takes a LOT to contract an illness. ONE cough or sneeze will not give it to you. 🤦‍♀️ You need fact-checking. It is not spread through food. Unless the infected put like a half cup of spit on it, nothing is going to get you.

  6. Joe Public May 26, 2020 10:00 am Reply

    Just because your on the Council, doesn’t mean access into the Emergency Management Center during declared emergencies, it takes months/years of training to become a member of the Incident Management Team (IMT) to provided guidance to various departments and Non-Government Organizations to respond to life threatening situations.

    The EOC is fully manned during large scale events such as COVID, and there really is no room for “spectators”. The Mayor usually held a conference with key members of the County and State in the past.

  7. Merci Schon May 26, 2020 3:24 pm Reply

    Having worked with City Councils and been active in Chamber of Commerce’s, I can fully appreciate the intricacies and sometimes difficulties of communication between all elected officials that have the important responsibility of keeping our cities and communities safe, not only in everyday situations, but especially in times of serious emergencies.

    I can sincerely appreciate where Councilwoman, Felicia Dowden was coming from. Why the lack of consideration for her concerns and being turned away makes no sense. This does not tend to make for a cohesive, cooperative team between all parties involved, especially in this time of a major crisis. I can appreciate Mayor Kawakami’s acknowledging the lack of communication and said he would be working on this issue. Time will tell should this take place. I sincerely believe the Mayor has done a great job under the stressful situation of the virus in doing all he can to keep Kauai safe. But, I also believe that Council Members should be kept in the loop, they also have the responsibility to respond to the residents. No matter what time an EOC meeting ends, some sort of communication (email) should go out to Council Members, even if you have to stay up till midnight, which I have done, so it’s definitely doable. The name of the game is Teamwork and Communication.

    As for the four-day work week for County employees, I would believe it is four-day work week/10-hour days. I was on a 4day/10hour schedule myself, so it makes perfect sense. I believe anything less would make no sense.

  8. mina May 26, 2020 5:40 pm Reply

    The county council can’t even solve Kauai’s barking dog epidemic. How would a bunch of kick-back cashing do-nothings possibly know what to do for a pandemic emergency? No wonder our mayor decided to bypass them. How do you work with a band of juveniles who can even can one of their members who’s a known drug runner?

    1. Arienfire May 31, 2020 8:57 pm Reply

      The reason why is because hunters give them crap. They try every time to make an ordinance. They’re not lazy, they just get a lot of whining because Kaua’i is big on hunting, and many hunters don’t give a crap about their dogs, they don’t care if their dogs bark all night.

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