Time out

Posted September 20, 2011 by David Shapiro
Categories: Volcanic Ash

I’m putting the blog on hiatus for the remainder of 2011.

I have some other things I need to attend to, and the relatively slow news period between elections and legislative sessions seems the right time. I’ll still be writing my Volcanic Ash and flASHback columns in the Star-Advertiser.

Thanks so much for reading and participating. If you’d like to be notified when the blog starts back up, leave an e-mail address in the “Subscription” box at the top of the right sidebar on the home page. The e-mail won’t be used for any other purpose.

— Dave


Are UPW talks coming to a head?

Posted September 16, 2011 by David Shapiro
Categories: Volcanic Ash

Tags: ,

If you think the state’s legal battle with the Hawaii State Teachers Association is intense, wait until negotiations boil over with the United Public Workers, which represents more than 13,000 state and county blue-collar workers.

Talks with the UPW have produced little apparent progress since the old “Furlough Friday” contract expired July 1, and while the matter has dragged out, UPW members have enjoyed a windfall in their paychecks.

They’re out from under the furloughs without being subject to the 5 percent pay cuts that the white-collar Hawaii Government Employees Association agreed to and which were imposed on the teachers in the state’s “last, best and final offer” that is now before the Hawaii Labor Relations Board.

Also, UPW members are for now free from the increase in medical insurance premiums from 40 percent to 50 percent that was imposed on the other unions.

Apparently, the main reason UPW hasn’t been given a “last, best and final offer” like the HSTA is a stalemate between Gov. Neil Abercrombie and the four county mayors.

Under state law, the governor has four votes and the mayors have one each on overlapping contracts, so the governor would need the agreement of at least one mayor to send a final offer to the UPW. So far he hasn’t had it, but there are indications he has recently won over a mayor and may be free to press the issue.

Any “last, best and final” offer would likely include a requirement that UPW members pay back the windfall they have received for three months; if UPW gets a better deal than the other unions, Abercrombie would have to extend it to HGEA under the “most favored nation” clause in its contract.

Members of UPW’s Unit 1 — custodians, cafeteria workers, laundry workers, etc. — have authorized a strike if the state imposes a contract as with HSTA, and union leaders have hinted they’ll maximize their leverage by calling it during the APEC conference, potentially shutting schools and halting vital services while President Barack Obama and other world leaders are in town.

Members of UPW’s Unit 10, health and correctional workers who don’t have the right to strike, will ultimately settle their contract by binding arbitration if there is no negotiated agreement.

Once there was dignity

Posted September 15, 2011 by David Shapiro
Categories: Volcanic Ash


I’ve spent the last couple of days reliving the past via “The Help,” a moving film about black maids and the white families they served in 1960s Jackson, Miss., and ABC’s documentary “Jacqueline Kennedy: In Her Own Words,” based on interviews the former first lady did with Arthur Schlesinger Jr. a few months after JFK’s 1963 assassination.

The stories seem like ancient history to today’s younger audiences and Caroline Kennedy called her mother’s interviews “a snapshot of a world we barely recognize,” but the period covered in both was when I was finishing intermediate school and starting high school and I recognize it well.

It was a time of great hardship and tragedy, but also of great hope and commitment that brought historic change to our country, mostly for the better.

These women, the black maids from Missssippi and the debutante from the exclusive schools of New York and Connecticut, couldn’t have been more different in many ways, but it was the similarities that made their stories compelling.

They all displayed remarkable courage and inner strength in dealing with adversity and ultimately changing history.

They played the cards they were dealt with an unwavering dignity, disdaining public displays of drama so common today with some politician on every network and some malcontent on every street corner whining about getting screwed.

It struck me that courage and dignity are qualities we could use a lot more of today as we confront a new set of challenges of the same magnitude of those in the ’60s.

“The Help” is still playing in local theaters and you can see the Kennedy documentary at abc.com.

Also just released was Schlesinger’s book, “Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life With John F. Kennedy,” which includes CDs of all six hours of the audio interviews.

Legislators continue ethics fight

Posted September 14, 2011 by David Shapiro
Categories: Volcanic Ash

Tags: ,

The Political Radar blog had an interesting item on a letter from legislative leaders asking the attorney general to weigh in on the Ethics Commission’s ruling that members of task forces and working groups formed by the Legislature must follow the same ethics rules on lobbying as members of other state boards and commissions.

I’ll leave it to the courts to decide the legalities, if legislators and the Ethics Commission push it that far.

But questions of what is illegal under the state’s narrow ethics laws and what is unethical are often two different things.

House Speaker Calvin Say and Senate President Shan Tsutsui said in their letter that legislators rely on task forces to gather expert information and that subjecting members to ethical restrictions on lobbying would have a “chilling effect.”

You could turn that around and argue that the Legislature’s reliance on task forces free of ethical reins has a chilling effect on openness, transparency and the public’s right to fair participation in the legislative process.

When lawmakers gather information by traditional means such as public hearings and workshops, everything is in the open and everybody gets their say.

When the information gathering is turned over to “experts” on shadowy task forces, the chosen few who are appointed have special access to legislators’ ears and everybody else is excluded from having a voice in a key part of the decision-making.

When the “experts” given exclusive access to legislators’ ears are paid lobbyists on the issue and often contributors to lawmakers’ campaigns, we have an ethics problem.

Say and Tsutsui contend that the Ethics Commission’s stance denies lobbyists and their employers their “constitutional right to petition government.”

That’s nonsense. They can petition government by writing letters and testifying at hearings like everybody else; they just don’t get privileged access.

An example of the problem is the task force that ignited the dispute — a panel on urban development formed by Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz that required inclusion of the Hawaii Building and Construction Trades Council, the General Contractors Association of Hawaii and “any other interested stakeholders or entities, including but not limited to developers, architects, and contractors.”

There was no required representation from the large part of the community that favors less development rather than more.

I said in a column that the membership list looks more like campaign donors dividing up the spoils than “experts,” and it invites shady dealings to allow such a group to operate without ethical restrictions.

Do my eyes deceive me on Waikiki homeless?

Posted September 13, 2011 by David Shapiro
Categories: Volcanic Ash

Tags: ,

I made a few trips to Waikiki last week and found the homeless far less visible than my last visit in checks from the Elks Club end of Kapiolani Park through Ala Moana Park.

I’ve also noticed fewer homeless in once-popular areas in Kakaako.

I’ll take it as a sign that Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s homelessness initiative is making progress, although there’s cause for some wariness from reports that the Waikiki homeless are moving into abandoned properties.

The administration reported getting more than 400 people statewide off of the streets and into shelters or transitional and permanent housing in the initial 90 days of its initiative, which is a significant start in so short a time.

There’s been some suspicion that it’s mainly an attempt to clean up Waikiki and the city core for the APEC conference, but the governor and his homelessness coordinator Marc Alexander have earned credit for more commitment than that just from their willingness to set goals and accept accountability for the results.

They’ve developed some sound strategies, such as fixing public housing units that are vacant because of disrepair, identifying sub-groups of homeless and their special needs and getting public and private agencies that work with the homeless on the same page and directed toward best practices.

It’s encouraging that the liberal administration is willing to adopt tough love approaches when appropriate, such as discouraging charitable groups from feeding the homeless on the beaches and instead directing them to shelters where they can get more help than just food.

One of the first and most valuable management lessons I learned is that you never let anybody get comfortable in a bad situation that’s detrimental to both the individual and the larger community.

It’s fair to ask what society is doing to help our fellow citizens who are homeless, but it’s also fair to ask what the homeless who are capable of helping themselves are doing about it.

Those who shun available shelter space and claim the right to freely live on prime beachfront park lands and other public property because they don’t like the rules the rest of us have to follow deserve little slack.

HSTA can’t get its affidavits straight

Posted September 9, 2011 by David Shapiro
Categories: Volcanic Ash

Tags: ,

The Hawaii State Teachers Association has received a stinging rebuke from the Hawaii State Labor Relations Board in its prohibited practices case against the state for implementing its “last, best and final” contract offer.

In July, HSTA filed an amended motion for interlocutory relief and tried to strike the state’s declarations of opposition on the sworn claim of HSTA attorney Rebecca Covert that Deputy Attorney James Halvorson’s affidavit didn’t contain the required statement that it was made “under penalty of law” or “under penalty of perjury.”

After an investigation, the HLRB found that Halvorson’s declaration did contain the required statement — and that the HSTA’s Wil Okabe’s declaration on the same matter did not.

The HLRB’s Sept. 2 ruling against HSTA contained a harsh slap-down of the union’s lawyers:

“The material misstatements made by Ms. Covert in her sworn affidavit, which were not corrected by Mr. (Herbert) Takahashi at the August 10, 2011 Board hearing, demonstrate an egregious and reckless disregard for the truth in this case. These statements seem intended to mislead the Board … Notice is hearby given that conduct of this nature will not be tolerated by the Board.”

The matter appears technical, but some lawyers say it could be serious enough to land HSTA lawyers before disciplinary counsel.

In the bigger picture, it seems another example of the union’s chaotic and highly antagonistic approach to the case that has left HSTA with few friends, even among other public worker unions.

Bunda a curious choice for transit authority

Posted September 8, 2011 by David Shapiro
Categories: Volcanic Ash

Tags: ,

The plan of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation to appoint former state Sen. Robert Bunda as its final voting member is baffling.

Previous appointments to HART by Mayor Peter Carlisle and the City Council were politically connected people with zero experience running a commuter rail system.

No personal knock on Bunda, who was a decent legislator, but to fail to fill the void in transit expertise with the final appointment and instead name a veteran politician makes a mockery of the intended purpose of HART to take politics out of the running of the city’s $5.3 million rail project.

Making matters worse, the transit authority is refusing to reveal the names of the 16 applicants for the job so that the public can judge for itself whether Bunda was the most appropriate choice.

It seems that every time those overseeing rail have an opportunity to reassure the public that the project is being run on the up and up, they do the opposite.

It bodes ill for the most important appointment before the board — executive director — for which HART is supposedly undertaking a nationwide search to fill the vital post held on an interim basis by Toru Hamayasu.

HART will hear public testimony and make a final decision on the Bunda appointment Sept. 16.

The political gods smile on Mufi Hannemann

Posted September 7, 2011 by David Shapiro
Categories: Volcanic Ash

Tags: , ,

After the embarrassing drubbing former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann took from Neil Abercrombie in last year’s governor’s race, who would have thought he’d have a chance to climb back into one of the state’s top offices just two years later?

But the 2nd Congressional District seat opened by Mazie Hirono’s run for retiring U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka’s job seems a golden opportunity for Hannemann to reclaim a choice spot on Hawai‘i’s political ladder.

The dismal 37.8 percent of the vote he received against Abercrombie was a stunning repudiation, and he’d have a lot to worry about if he had to go one-on-one against another top Democrat.

But this congressional race could draw a half-dozen candidates or more, and Hannemann would need only a plurality to win. If he held anywhere near that 37.8 percent, he’d win in a landslide; Hirono won a multi-candidate primary in 2006 with barely 20 percent of the vote.

Hannemann will have a substantial bankroll and likely a long list of business and labor endorsements that his current announced opponents — freshman City Councilwoman Tulsi Gabbard and veteran congressional aide Esther Kiaaina — will find difficult to match.

Former state Sen. Gary Hooser has also expressed interest, but he seems to have peaked with middle-of-the-pack finishes in the 2006 congressional race and last year’s Democratic primary for lieutenant governor.

No Republican candidate of any weight has emerged.

Unless there’s a surprise entry or Hannemann makes more of the foolish mistakes that did him in against Abercrombie, this race looks like his to lose.

A ‘waha’ state of mind

Posted September 6, 2011 by David Shapiro
Categories: Volcanic Ash

Tags: ,

My last “serious” column before going on vacation was about Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s tendency to orate over and over about the state’s problems without having new progress to report in solving them.

A reader wrote in using a word to describe the governor that I haven’t heard since my days in Hilo High — “waha.” It technically means “mouth,” but carries a broader meaning of all talk and no action.

I started to see a pattern when the word popped up again in another e-mail containing what the reader said was an old Hawaiian saying:

Hana ka hoe (Work the paddle),
pa‘a ka waha (close the mouth).

These struck me as very profound words whose applicability went well beyond the governor to everybody in public life from the local City Council to the U.S. Congress — and maybe even those of us who comment from the sidelines.

As we come out of Labor Day supposedly renewed for the rest of the year, we’d make more progress toward getting past our differences and solving our stubborn problems if we all paid more attention to working the paddles.

Gone fishin’

Posted August 21, 2011 by David Shapiro
Categories: Volcanic Ash


I’m taking a little time off to spend what’s left of the summer paying attention to things other than the news. See you after Labor Day.

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