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Thursday, July 8, 2021
July 8, 2021 News Read
By Andrew Walden @ 5:47 PM :: 3488 Views

Vetoes and Overrides!

Ige Nominates Canto to BLNR

COVID Whistleblower fired by Hawaii Health Department--Sues DoH

SA: … A former Hawaii Department of Health epidemiologist who exposed the department’s lack of COVID-19 contract tracers early on during the pandemic is suing the state alleging that she was fired in retaliation for speaking out.

Jennifer Smith made headlines last year after accusing the Health Department of lying about the number of contract tracers it had on staff. She said that the number was much lower than top health officials claimed and current staff had been working long hours and six to seven days a week to try to keep up with an increase in cases.

Smith was briefly suspended with pay in September. She says she had been falsely accused of making threatening comments at work and an investigation found such claims to be baseless. Smith was reinstated at her job in October.

She was then fired on May 28, said Smith, after supervisors accused her of inappropriate social media posts and releasing confidential information, which she denies. Smith says that health department officials refused to cite the posts or information they were concerned about.

“I definitely believe that I’m being punished for speaking out last year about the failures of leadership to increase capacity to respond appropriately to the outbreak,” she told the Star-Advertiser. “When I returned to work at the end of October, I was very nervous because I knew I would be targeted for sure. I made sure that I did all my assigned work, that I did it to their satisfaction. There were no performance issues mentioned to me. This kind of came out of the blue.”…

read … Whistleblower sues state after being fired by Hawaii Health Department

Interview: State Auditor Les Kondo

CB: … The high-profile Hawaii official discusses the purpose of his office, criticism from House leaders, special funds and the audit of the Agribusiness Development Corp….

Q: Sylvia Luke, the House Finance Committee chair, has been very critical in particular of the special funds. And she worries that, as you indicated, there’s a whole pile of money there. Do you think there are significant pots of money the Legislature isn’t keeping a good handle on?

A:  I think that’s why we’re charged with doing these. We call them the SRT fund reports, the special fund, relief fund, trust fund. I think that’s why we’re mandated to do those reports, because I don’t think the Legislature has as much visibility into those pots of money, those special funds, revolving funds, etc. The departments that hold these monies, they’re supposed to report every year to the Legislature how much they have in these different funds.

Their reporting is not accurate. Every year we report that they didn’t report this money or that money. And what they don’t report is tens of millions of dollars and maybe hundreds of millions of dollars. The answer is yes. I think there are monies that the Legislature is not fully aware of that are held by these departments in these different kinds of funds….

Q: You had an extraordinary year this year with your differences with the House speaker and a special committee being appointed (to examine the state auditor). And you’ve told the public that you never knew what the fundamental issue was that led the speaker to just turn on you like that. Is any of that resolved or is that all still just left hanging out there?

A: I still don’t know. But to answer your question directly (Speaker Scott Saiki) issued the working group’s report, which was just garbage. And then we issued a response — which I reread last night, and I thought, boy, that was a good response. But after that I haven’t heard a word. Some legislators have communicated with me to say, “Congratulations, well done, keep it up.” You know, those kind of supportive comments, but nothing official — certainly not from the speaker or any of those folks that are in his inner circle.

Q: So then the speaker put out a press release recently that he had organized this legislative committee, this investigative committee. And the way they worded it was to investigate the audit of the (Department of Land and Natural Resources special development fund) and the Agribusiness Development Corp. So are they investigating the audit or are they investigating the agencies?

A: I don’t know. Somebody asked me, is this a second bite at you or second whack at you and me and my office? And I said, I don’t know, but I don’t think so. I mean — and maybe I’m just too naive and have the rose-colored glasses on still. I just think we’re done on this issue. Whatever the issue was, I think, (Saiki) convened the working group. They did whatever. And honestly, our office is terrific. The people in it are just dedicated. Certainly any office can be better. But the criticisms that they were raising, they were just not based on anything. But I assume that our response has put that to bed.

Q: But in that report, some of the things that were mentioned was that your office did not appoint executives with proper experience, and that there were delays and untimely reports. Saiki specifically mentioned unnecessary litigation involving your office, specifically with the Office of Hawaiian Affairs audit. Those sound like serious charges. Is there nothing to that?

A: I feel like this is a kind of a water under the bridge thing. He did whatever he was trying to do. And we responded. And I feel like it’s kind of done.

Q: In a nutshell you’re saying that it really didn’t have any traction.

A: It was based upon just garbage….

June 15, 2021: Witch Hunt: House Panel To Attack Auditor Again

read … Interview: State Auditor Les Kondo

State leaders question need to market Hawaii to tourists

SA: … The leaders of the state House and Senate said today that the summer surge in tourists shows that Hawaii no longer needs to be marketed as a tourist destination and invited the Hawaii Tourism Authority to help figure out how HTA can better manage tourists once they arrive and reduce community complaints and concerns.

House Speaker Scott Saiki and Senate President Ron Kouchi spoke to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser during its Spotlight Hawaii online broadcast today, one day after both the House and Senate overrode Gov. David Ige’s veto of House Bill 862 that fundamentally changes HTA’s funding and leaves its future uncertain.

Asked about HTA’s role going forward, Kouchi said: “What we’re hoping for is that we’re going to see a better collaboration between HTA and the visitor industry, the Legislature as well as the general public before we get to the point where we have incredible push back from residents and really hurt our brand by having people who are unhappy with the visitors’ movement. We need to all be at the table working together. I think this creates a pathway for that to occur.”

Saiki later said, “I’m not sure that tourism needs to be marketed here anymore as we see now with the numbers increasing so rapidly. But I think that HTA has to help us be more strategic in how we target the kinds of the tourists, the visitors that we want to target for Hawaii.”

HB 862 allows counties to both raise hotel tax rates and collect them directly. Asked about the effect on residents who want to travel to neighbor islands or book rooms on Oahu, Saiki the bill would have likely faced a legal challenge by charging different tax rates between tourists and residents….

SA Editorial: Override muddles mission of Hawaii Tourism Authority

HTH: Roth, others mulling options after passage of TAT bill

read … State leaders question need to market Hawaii to tourists

Maui Bill to slice short-term rental permit caps advances

MN: … There are approximately 217 permitted short-term rental home operations in the county, according to the Planning Department. About 50 percent of those permits belong to out-of-state residents.

“Our community desperately needs affordable housing, as stated prior, when we have people purchasing our short inventory of housing and we’re including them in our income levels for East Maui . . . it doesn’t truly represent our rural community,” Council Member Shane Sinenci said before the vote on July 1. “This is why we are working at all levels to address the problem, and this is one of them.”

The council committee in an 8-0 vote, with Council Member Mike Molina excused, recommended approval for the measure to reduce permits from 30 to 15 for Hana, from 88 to 50 for West Maui, from 100 to 46 for Kihei-Makena, from 40 to 14 for Makawao-Pukalani-Kula, from 55 to 47 for Paia-Haiku and from 36 to six for Wailuku-Kahului. The bill will now head to council for first reading.

Molokai has a moratorium on short-term vacation rental permits, and Lanai’s cap, which is 19, will be addressed at an upcoming Planning and Sustainable Land Use Committee meeting.

Under the bill, everyone who had a permit or submitted a complete application before July 2, 2021, would remain status quo, but any new applications submitted after July 2, 2021, would be subject to the new caps….

read … Bill to slice short-term rental permit caps advances

Hawaii’s Travel Rules Are Ending But Restrictions On Other Businesses Linger

CB: … Hawaii is now the only U.S. state with such restrictions still in place, the Associated Press reported this week. While the state’s COVID-19 liaison, Lt. Gov. Josh Green, has said that might change early next month, Gov. David Ige has shown no sign of changing his plan, which calls for lifting restrictions only when 70% of the population is vaccinated….

read … Hawaii’s Travel Rules Are Ending But Restrictions On Other Businesses Linger

‘It’s disgusting’: Lawsuit alleges DOE, BOE, and principal failed to protect female student

WHT: … The civil action, filed March 30 in 3rd Circuit Court and petitioned April 29 to U.S. District Court in Honolulu, alleges that between November 2018 and Feb. 26, 2019, a male student at Konawaena High School repeatedly sexually assaulted, sexually abused, harassed and/or bullied a female minor who attended Konawaena Middle School on the high school premises….

The defendants — the state Department of Education, Board of Education, Konawaena High School Principal Shawn Suzuki and other not-yet-named parties — were made aware of at least one temporary restraining order having been filed against the male student prior to November 2018 that alleged the same misconduct as the victim in the March 30 lawsuit.

“Defendants, and each of them, had received reports of the male student sexually assaulting, molesting, harassing, threatening and/or stalking other female students, and they failed to take any action to protect (X.X.) as well as other female students,” the lawsuit reads….

Though the male is not named in the lawsuit, the minor’s guardian confirmed to West Hawaii Today on Wednesday that he is in fact Justin Mariano, who has been indicted for sexual assault in three separate criminal cases, including one involving the victim in the civil suit. He is currently confined to the Hawaii State Hospital pending status review set for next month.

The civil lawsuit further alleges the defendants did nothing to monitor or supervise the male student despite having been informed by students and/or parents as far back as 2015….

“He would pick on young girls that had some kind of mental or physical defect,” said Attorney Michael J. Green, who filed the suit. “He was running around the school, as our complaint says, having sex with these young kids and apparently the principal or vice principal knew about it and their response was, ‘well, you know, they’re just kids, they’re just students.’”

Green said he believes there are more victims.

“I don’t believe for a second these are the only two victims. I can tell you I have a third victim where the statute of limitations ran out and I absolutely believe 100% that the school knew that he was a danger to young girls at the school,” he said. “I have no doubt about that.”…

read … ‘It’s disgusting’: Lawsuit alleges DOE, BOE and principal failed to protect female student

Sykap Shooting: Judge refutes arguments for dismissal

KHON: … Prosecutors charged the three officers days after a grand jury declined to do so, a move the defense attorneys referred to in their motion as, “an unusual procedural process that seems inherently suspect.”

Former Judge Randal Lee agreed that it is highly unusual. He had never seen it in his 25 years as a prosecutor.

“Does it mean that it’s illegal? No, it just means that the prosecutor had the discretion to do what they did,” said Lee….

Defense attorneys said serious charges like the officers face fall outside the district court’s jurisdiction. Their motion says, “The only way the State may prosecute attempted second-degree murder is under the authority of a grand jury indictment.”

Lee disagreed.

“If you go to district court there’s a number of preliminary hearings with regards to murders,” he said….

This comes as the Honolulu Police Commission approved the request by the three officers for the City to pay their legal fees.

“The law is clear, if the alleged conduct related to the officer arose out of, and related to his duties as a police officer, then we must provide paid legal counsel,” said Michael Broderick, Honolulu Police Commissioner.

The commission also agreed to pay for the legal fees of three other officers involved in another fatal police shooting in 2019. The family of Kyle Thomas filed a civil lawsuit against the City….

CB: The three officers are expected to appear at a preliminary hearing July 20 in Honolulu District Court. At that hearing, the prosecutor’s office will present evidence to try and prove that probable cause exists to indict the officers.

read … Honolulu officers charged in shooting death of teenager ask judge to dismiss the case

Insiders See List of 24 applying to be Honolulu Police Department chief, but names not made public

SA: … Twenty-four people applied to serve as Honolulu’s 12th police chief but the process is delayed by 30 days because not enough people applied to serve as the consultant to assist the Honolulu Police Commission.

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser requested a list of the 24 applicants, 12 of whom are Hawaii residents, but the police commission declined, citing respect for the integrity of the hiring process and to protect the candidates.

Police Commission executive officer James K.S. Yuen said during Wednesday’s meeting that the city Department of Human Resources is reviewing the list of applicants to ensure they meet the minimum qualifications. But the city Department of Human Resources does not have the list, according to Tim Sakahara, Mayor Rick Blangiardi’s communications director….

The police commission did not reply to questions about the discrepancy and said during Wednesday’s meeting that commissioners would not have access to the list until a consultant selects the finalists.

The Star-Advertiser plans to submit a Freedom of Information Act request to the police commission requesting the list of candidates for the taxpayer-funded position….

Capt. Thomas Taflinger confirmed to the Star-Advertiser that he applied for the department’s top job. Interim Chief Rade K. Vanic previously declined to comment on whether he was applying for the permanent position.

The confusion and clandestine nature of the process is at odds with public demand for more police transparency and the creation of a citizen advisory committee to aid in the search. Testifiers before the committee Wednesday continued to push for the creation of the committee….

SA: Honolulu police chief candidates’ names not released

read … 24 apply to be Honolulu Police Department chief, but names not made public

Police Commission Lacks Consultants for Police Chief Search

CB: … Wednesday, the commission announced that its search for Honolulu’s next police chief will be delayed 30 days because it didn’t receive enough applicants for a consultant to comply with state procurement laws. The consultants would take on a bulk of the work sorting through applications.

Chairwoman Shannon Alivado said the seven-member commission will have to handle the process if not enough consultants apply.

The commission has so far received 24 applications, including 12 people from Hawaii and 12 from mainland.

Meanwhile, the commission is also trying to figure out whether it wants to form a citizens advisory committee to help with the chief selection process. Activists pushed the idea at the last commission meeting June 23….

read … Taxpayers May Foot The Bill For Lawyers For Officers Charged In Sykap Shooting

Come January 1, it will be legal for private citizens in Hawaii to own a Taser

HNN: … “There was a case on the continent putting serious doubt whether we could continue to have our ban on private ownership of so called electric guns,” said state Sen. and Judiciary Chair Karl Rhoads….

Andrew Namiki Roberts, of the Hawaii Firearms Coalition, had filed a lawsuit against the state saying he wanted to own a stun gun to protect himself and his expensive photography equipment.

Even though ownership will be legal in Hawaii, it is likely still illegal to carry the Taser with you.

So come January 1, Namiki Roberts is going to see for himself.

“My first step is to obtain one legally and test the law,” he said. “The fact that people in Hawaii will have a nonlethal method of self defense is very exciting for us.”

Governor Ige had signed HB 891 into law.

“This new law provides strict restrictions on the purchase, use, and transfer of an electric gun,” said the Office of the Special Assistant to the Attorney General.

Rhoads says carrying stun guns is covered under HRS 134-51 where it’s a crime to carry deadly weapons in most circumstances.

Rhode Island is the last state to ban private ownership of Tasers and it’s facing a lawsuit by the same attorney who spearheaded the Hawaii case.

Related: HB891: Proposed Taser Law Would Outlaw Common Medical Devices

read … Come January 1, it will be legal for private citizens in Hawaii to own a Taser

State board rules against homeowners in Kakaako tower dispute

SA: … A state board has rejected a petition from owners of a moderate-priced Kakaako condominium tower to hold the developer of the 2-year-old building accountable for grossly underestimated maintenance fees. 

(CLUE: All developers do this.  It boosts selling price.)

Board members of the Hawaii Community Development Authority voted 5-1 Wednesday to deny the petition filed in May by the association of homeowners at Ke Kilohana, a 424-unit tower developed by Howard Hughes Corp. to partially satisfy an HCDA requirement to make 20% of homes in its master-planned Ward Village community affordable to moderate-income households.

The petition asked the board to declare that Hughes Corp. failed to deliver homes meeting affordability guidelines because maintenance fees had to be increased 53% less than a year after the 43-story tower opened.

read … State board rules against homeowners in Kakaako tower dispute

Activists Harass Homeless Shelter--Sic DPP on it

SA: …Several complaints were made regarding unpermitted structures on the property at 85-596I Waianae Valley Road, said DPP spokesman Curtis Lum in an email.

One of those complaints came from Kalihi resident Ila Park. She said after reading a June 11 Honolulu Star-Advertiser article about the project, she called the city to complain.

“I’m just a citizen,” Park said. “I got no skin in any game. I just read that and how could they be able to do this? What gives him the right? I think that’s a fire hazard. I think it’s dangerous. I don’t think people should be living in Home Depot storage sheds.”

A DPP inspector determined the plastic structures were erected without a building permit.

Cedar Church in Kalihi, led by Pastor Duk Whan Kim, the bought the farm in 2012 to help homeless people willing to work on the farm, and they began farming in April.

The homeless live in the ready-made plastic sheds, which are supplemented with shared portable toilets, showers and a covered outdoor kitchen and dining area.

The farm grows vegetables and has eight goats, and Kim plans to expand it with chickens, ducks and more goats.

The church has a food establishment permit and is planning to set up a kimchi factory in September at the farm using some of the produce, a church spokeswoman said. The homeless would be able to work in the factory….

read … Harassment

Monday: Hu Honua Trial in San Francisco

IM: … A massive legal fight is occurring in California between two major players in the Hu Honua fiasco. The Harold H. Robinson IV vs. Jennifer M. Johnson jury trial is scheduled for January and February 2021. What evidence will be admitted? Which witnesses will be excluded? Will there be a multi-million-dollar settlement?

The court case, CGC-18-567324 has been scheduled by the California State, San Francisco County, Superior Court to start on July 12, 2021….

Jennifer Johnson`s Hawaii Supreme Court appeal is aimed at getting the Hu Honua tree-burning project approved. Jennifer Johnson`s California lawsuit defense is aimed at showing the difficulty of getting Hu Honua approved.

Unraveling the Hu Honua Hawai`i corporate structure is difficult as it is actively being fought and thwarted by Hu Honua. Some initial steps have revealed a portion of the structure.

Jennifer M. Johnson owns and controls two California-registered companies: Silverbelt Holdings LLC (SBH) managed by Silverbelt Investments LLC (SBI).

Silverbelt Holdings own a Delaware-registered subsidiary Island BioEnergy LLC (IBE) which is the parent company of Hawai`i-registered Island BioEnergy LLC (IBE), which, in turn, owns Hu Honua BioEnergy LLC that has proposed the bioenergy refinery located in Pepe`ekeo.

Jennifer M. Johnson owns and controls Delaware-registered CN Renewable Resources LLC (CNRR) which has a subsidiary, Hawai`i registered CN Renewable Resources LLC, that is responsible for clear-cutting forests to provide wood to Hu Honua….

(Translation: She owns the right to harvest these worthless eucalyptus trees planted in the 1990s as part of a Mehau-KSBE scam on the former Hamakua Sugar Co lands.  In order to profit, she has created a captive buyer for the trees with rates established by the PUC.  So we electric rate payers will make this investment in junk trees profitable.)

read … Monday: Hu Honua Trial in San Francisco

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