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Wednesday, October 25, 2023
October 25, 2023 News Read
By Andrew Walden @ 4:55 PM :: 3221 Views

Hawaii AG Joins Nationwide Suit Against Facebook

Legislature Accepting Applications for 2024 Session

UHERO: Reduce fire risk with regulation, restoration of fallow ag lands

Hawaii Among Worst: 2024 State Business Tax Climate Index

​Consumer challenges Hawaiian Tropic’s ‘Reef Friendly’ sunscreen label

Slavery Poisons Solar Industry’s Supply Chains

Hawaii Bribery Scandal Casts a Shadow Over Lahaina’s Ruins

NYT: … After a major contracting scandal broke out in Hawaii last year, the mayor of Maui County appeared on television to express outrage and announce a sweeping audit of contracts awarded to a corrupt businessman.

But no one told the county auditor, who said he only heard about the audit on the news. In the end, the audit was never completed, and the county’s flawed system for awarding contracts — a system marred by bribery and a lack of competition — remains largely the way it was.

Now, as Maui recovers from the devastating wildfires that swept across parts of the island in August and killed at least 99 people, millions of dollars will be spent on rebuilding critical infrastructure using the same flawed contract-monitoring system.

The bribery case involving the businessman, Milton Choy, prompted some county officials to begin phasing out the use of sole-source contracts — which are awarded without competitive bidding when officials determine that only one vendor is able to supply a particular good or service — but the practice is still in use in the county….

A look at Mr. Choy’s case reveals pitfalls in a procurement system that could confront the county as it prepares to handle millions of dollars in new spending. That very little has changed since the bribery scandal was revealed could leave the door open for some contractors to take advantage of the disaster or for government money to be wasted.

Maui County has already issued more than $3 million worth of contracts in the first several weeks after the fires, and millions more are expected….

Most of the money spent so far has gone to firms hired to clear debris from roads and to manage traffic in the burned area. Consultants were also hired to assess damage to Lahaina’s water system and to develop temporary holding facilities for toxic debris.

And most of the contracts awarded so far went through without competitive bidding.

Abuse of single-source contracts was at the heart of the scandal involving Mr. Choy, and while his company also won government contracts on Kauai and Oahu, Maui County is where he made the most money that way….

Maui County does much more of its spending through sole-source contracts than the state does. That type of contract accounts for less than 1 percent of spending by state agencies, but Maui County has used them for 7 percent of its contract awards since 2015….

The county purchasing office that checks agency requests for no-bid contracts has only a handful of employees — sometimes as few as two — who monitor purchases from the county’s 15 departments, according to former employees.

The Maui County Board of Ethics, which is responsible for investigating possible wrongdoing by public officials, has neither a dedicated budget nor the staff necessary to conduct investigations — even now, after two county officials and two state lawmakers from Maui who took bribes from Mr. Choy have been sent to prison….

read … Hawaii Bribery Scandal Casts a Shadow Over Lahaina’s Ruins

Environmentalists drop lawsuit after Green amends housing order

SA: … A coalition of environmental organizations today withdrew its lawsuit against Gov. Josh Green’s emergency proclamation to stimulate development of affordable housing that they said removed safeguards on protecting the environment, cultural resources and government transparency.

Green issued a third, updated emergency proclamation today that seemed to satisfy Earthjustice, a nonprofit public-interest law organization that sued the state and Green’s former Chief Housing Officer Nani Medeiros, on behalf of the Sierra Club, affordable-housing and Native Hawaiian advocates, the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii and some residents in West Maui.

Green’s original 60-day emergency proclamation, issued July 17, created a new state emergency housing development approval panel intended to get 50,000 homes built faster across the islands.

In response to original criticisms, Green issued an updated emergency proclamation on Sept. 15 that also failed to address the lawsuit’s concerns over suspending state laws requiring public hearings, assessment of environmental impacts and protections for Native Hawaiian burials.

Green’s third emergency proclamation, issued today, reinstates county council oversight over most affordable housing projects, and no longer suspends Hawaii’s Sunshine Law, burial protections and environmental review requirements, according to the groups that sued….

OIP: Green's Latest Housing Proclamation Removes Sunshine Law Exemption

News Release: Second-Proclamation-Relating-to-Affordable-Housing.pdf (hawaii.gov)

CB: Transparency Exemption Restored As Green Revises Housing Proclamation Again

REALITY: Housing Emergency Designed to Fail

read … Environmentalists drop lawsuit after Green amends housing order

Maui Report On 2018 Lahaina Fire Whitewashed Issues That Reappeared Five Years Later

CB: … A report on the shortcomings of Maui County’s response to a 2018 fire failed to address many problems identified by residents at the time, according to a copy of the document released Tuesday.

Those unexamined issues have been raised anew after the fire that leveled Lahaina town two months ago.

The Aug. 24, 2018 blaze scorched 2,100 acres, wiping out 21 houses, 27 cars and causing $4.3 million in damage. Within days, residents had several criticisms of the county’s response.

At a community meeting, residents asked why they didn’t receive an emergency alert on their cellphones, why sirens hadn’t blared and why firefighters lost access to water. They pointed out the apparent lack of an evacuation plan and asked why Maui Electric Company hadn’t cut the energy to its power lines in anticipation of the fire risk.

“We were running around through town with cinders burning our hairs, banging on doors to wake people up at two in the morning,” one resident said at the meeting. “Why did our civil defense siren system fail us?”

But in the 2019 report meant to analyze the county’s failures during that incident, none of those community concerns are addressed. The 66-page after-action report produced by the Maui Emergency Management Agency assessed the performance of agencies involved in MEMA’s emergency operations center, including MEMA itself, the police and fire departments, and the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency.

But the report makes no mention of sirens, evacuation routes, cell phone alerts or preemptively deactivating electrical wires. It makes one brief mention of water wells not having access to emergency generators. Overall, the report states the county considered the response to be “effective.”

Now, community members’ complaints read as prophetic after Lahaina was destroyed by fire in August, killing at least 99 people….

The after-action report was released to Civil Beat on Tuesday in response to a public records request and amid public pressure on the county to share the lessons it learned from the earlier fire. The document explicitly states it was never meant to be made public. In fact, it appears it was never finalized. The cover is labeled “Draft.”

Labeled “For Official Use Only,” the report opens with a warning that it contains “sensitive information” that should be “safeguarded.” The information should only be shared on a “need-to-know basis,” should not be copied, and should be kept in a locked container when not in use, the report states.

IM: Maui County Intentionally Hid Its 2018 Lahaina Fire Investigation from the Public 

PDF: Maui-2018 Lahaina-fire/Hurricane Lane-after-action-report

read … Maui Report On 2018 Lahaina Fire Failed To Address Issues That Reappeared Five Years Later

2 years ago, Maui County-funded commission sounded the alarm about wildfire risks

HNN: … A 2021 report from a publicly-funded commission identifies key solutions to the wildfire risk threatening Maui, but it’s unclear if Maui County acted on the findings. Members of the commission say there was never any government follow-up.

HNN obtained the report as part of an ongoing investigation at the county’s actions before, during and after the wildfire that leveled Lahaina. Two months after the disaster, which claimed at least 99 lives with six others still unaccounted for, it’s clear that the wildfire threat was well-documented — the result of poor land management, inadequate planning and drought.

In fact, in the 21-page report completed two years ago, Maui County’s Cost of Government Commission — an advisory body whose members are selected by the mayor — warned of the increasing threat wildfires posed, “putting citizens, properties and sacred sites” at risk.

“What I found was that the number of fires, and particularly the damage from fires, have been increasing — pretty much steadily, year over year,” said Patrick O’Neil, who served on the commission and previously taught at the University of Nebraska.

PDF: Report on Wildfire Prevention & Cost Recovery on Maui (July 2021) - Part 1 (Report & Exhibits A-B)

read … 2 years ago, Maui County-funded commission sounded the alarm about wildfire risks (hawaiinewsnow.com)

Commission on Water Resource Management’s first meeting with reinstated director

KHON: … The state agency in charge of water rights met Tuesday morning on Maui, for the first time since Kaleo Manuel was reinstated as its director.

It was a packed house.

A look at how to fix wells, shafts and water pumps damaged in the fire as soon as possible and to protect from contamination.

“The goal is to get these improvements done as soon as possible based on potential threat to the resource,” said Kaleo Manuel.

(NOTE: Not to provide for firefighting.)

Manuel was sidelined for months after reviewing (refusing until too late) a large landowner’s request to fill their reservoir (for firefighting) on the day of the Lahaina fires.

Getting him reinstated was the topic of a marathon commission hearing last month. To view the meeting agenda visit the CWRM website or click here.

For all recent updates to the CWRM Website, be sure to check the Website Updates section here.

SA: Panel is urged to restore West Maui stream flows | Honolulu Star-Advertiser (staradvertiser.com)

CB: Water Commission Implored To 'Hit The Reset Button' Following Maui Fires (whatever that means)

read … Commission on Water Resource Management’s first meeting with reinstated director

Maui dispatcher shares what it was like on the other side of cries for help during August fires

HNN: … Davlynn Racadio is Maui County’s Emergency Services Dispatch Coordinator. She, too, was born and raised on Maui. She has been a dispatcher for 36 years. She was in Nashville when the disaster hit home.…

Racadio said Maui County dispatchers took over 4,500 calls that day. She said they typically receive around 1,600 calls a day.

She also said nine dispatchers were working at the height of the crisis. They started the day with four dispatchers….

“It finally, I think, hit us when we got that first 1015 button. That emergency button that our officers and our firemen can press if they are in an emergency situation. When we heard that call, and quickly heard the mayday call, that was … I think at that moment, for us, it hit home,” Melia Johnson said while wiping her tears.

A fire captain had lost consciousness and was suffering life-threatening injuries.

“I looked around the room, and everyone … tears coming out of their eyes and still doing their job. There was no time to give up, walk away, take a break. None of that,” said Johnson.

Johnson, a Maui native, is a Maui County Emergency Services Dispatcher supervisor. She has been a dispatcher for 15 years. She came in to work early on August 8th to help with the flood of calls that were coming in.

“Some of us had children missing that were working in Lahaina. Some of us had family members that we didn’t hear from and who live out there. We knew we had first responders, officers, and firemen that were working there and losing their homes and not knowing where their families were. We even had dispatchers who lost loved ones that day,” she said….

read … Maui dispatcher shares what it was like on the other side of cries for help during August fires

Oprah And Dwayne Johnson’s Relief Fund Has Paid Out $19 Million

CB: … While over $19 million will be disbursed by the end of October, it’s unclear how large the fund is or how long Maui residents can expect payments, based on the information provided.

Winfrey wrote in a blog post that the fund will last at least six months. That would amount to approximately $58 million in needed funds with the current number of approved applicants.

But the fact sheet provided by the foundation said “monthly aid will last as long as the funds are available.”

It also noted they are still actively fundraising, and that disbursements will not affect tax liability or access by recipients to other charitable donations.

The effort sparked some online backlash after Winfrey and Johnson solicited additional donations for the fund, given their collective net worth.

“Honestly, it probably would have raised more money if people didn’t come down so hard on them,” said Grimes. “It probably scared some people off with all that negativity.”…

read … Oprah And Dwayne Johnson’s Relief Fund Has Paid Out $19 Million

Hawaii County officials could be next to receive pay raises

KHON: … The Hawaii County Salary Commission is proposing pay raises for the Mayor, Managing Director, Department heads and County Councilmembers. The Commission found that there has been a 22.44% inflation change since 2018, calling it an unfair pay cut for these individuals. The Commission is proposing to increase pay by 22.44% starting Jan. 1, 2024.

“Addressing inflation and making sure their pay is at the right levels so they can continue to recruit and retain good staff for both the appointed and elected positions,” Pavao said.

The Commission is also suggesting another 5% increase July 1, 2024. The Mayor would be the highest paid at over $209,000, followed by the managing director and deputy managing director.….

Testimony will be welcomed at a public meeting on Nov. 16. Another public meeting will be held in December, where the Salary Commission will likely make their final vote. Two-thirds of the commission need to approve the proposed salary raises….

read … Hawaii County officials could be next to receive pay raises

DHHL proposes 10 legislative measures to reduce its housing waitlist.

HPR: … DHHL has a list of 10 legislative proposals it says will help the agency move more people off the growing DHHL waitlist and into housing….

Three measures propose to add a seat for DHHL on various state boards. These include the Commission on Water Resource Management, the Hawaiʻi Housing Finance and Development Corporation, and the Hawaiʻi Community Development Authority. DHHL Director Kali Watson said discussions are ongoing….

Another proposal would allow DHHL to handle historic preservation reviews in-house. This is a measure DHHL continuously proposed to lawmakers over the past three years with little support….

DHHL is also proposing its projects be excluded from school impact fees and general excise and use taxes. These measures could save the department millions, said DHHL’s Oriana Leao.

“Our estimates if this bill were approved and were applied to the $600 million that was allocated through Act 279 would come out to $24 million,” Leao said….

DHHL is also pursuing a measure to secure independent legal counsel for the Hawaiian Homes Commission and expand accessibility for beneficiaries under its Direct Loan Program.

As a state agency, DHHL currently obtains legal guidance from the state Attorney General’s Office. The department has argued for years that the state’s interests may at times be at odds with DHHL’s interest in carrying out its trust responsibilities under the 1921 Hawaiian Home Commission Act….

The department is also seeking improvements to its Direct Loan Program with proposals to increase the loan limit and loan terms. With the higher cost of constructing or purchasing a home, increasing the loan limits from 50% to 75% of the maximum loan amount could allow beneficiaries to purchase or make improvements to their homes.

Increasing the allowable loan term to 40 years, instead of 30 years, will allow for lower monthly payment amounts for beneficiaries….

read … DHHL proposes 10 legislative measures to reduce its housing waitlist. 

Navy, Hawaii officials look into uptick in complaints about fuel-tainted water

SAS: … “Over a dozen families on the Navy water line have reported to the CRI in the last week that they have experienced a rise in symptoms that are consistent with increased water contamination and shared with the CRI documented and photographed evidence of recent ailments that included rashes, burns and illnesses,” the news release said….

“Most people do not bathe in cold water, yet the Navy has only conducted cold water testing as part of their long term monitoring process,” she wrote. “The Navy refuses to test residential hot water, just as they’ve refused to replace hot water heaters. I want the Navy to stop turning a blind eye and ignoring the possibility of contamination being stored in those water heaters.”…

CRI is also asking the Navy to create “a new, written policy statement that will ban retribution or retaliation for military personnel and their spouses who report issues with their water and request water testing,” the news release states.

“In Feb 2022, I filed a DOD whistleblower violation complaint after experiencing retaliation from my own command team,” Feindt wrote in the text message. “The investigation into my complaint is still ongoing (20 months later), and there are currently no regulations in place to protect me in the process.”

Meanwhile, she said she has watched “my retaliators and the leaders responsible for the crisis be nominated for the most senior positions in the military ... promoted, awarded, or have been able to retire with their careers intact.”…

read … Navy, Hawaii officials look into uptick in complaints about fuel-tainted water

Family-owned store in Waipahu offering healthy options to the community

KHON: … Since Nii Superette stopped selling cigarettes and alcohol a year ago, theft and other crime has practically disappeared at the family owned store….

read … Family-owned store in Waipahu offering healthy options to the community

Lahaina Fire News:

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