Archive for July 2011

System for choosing UH regents falls short again

July 19, 2011

Once again, the regents advisory committee has given Gov. Neil Abercrombie only two candidates to pick from in filling a Big Island seat on the University of Hawai’i Board of Regents.

With no knock intended on the candidates — Kamehameha Schools vice president Gregory Chun and former Hawaii County managing director Barry Mizuno — that’s just too few for the governor to have a meaningful choice in shaping the board that directs the University of Hawai’i.

While the poorly conceived law passed by the Legislature to govern the selection panel allows members to turn over that few candidates, the customary number is for such advisory committees is four to six choices.

Giving only two effectively cuts the state’s chief executive out of the process and leaves choosing regents to a selection panel that represents a collection special interests that feed off the university and is accountable to nobody.

The issue flared earlier in the year when Abercrombie didn’t like any of the skimpy choices given him for two regents seats, but was turned down by the panel when he asked for more candidates. He appointed from what he had and the Senate Education Committee rejected both nominees as ill qualified.

The governor called the system broken and Senate Education Chairwoman Jill Tokuda agreed that the Legislature should consider changes next year.

Let’s hope they follow through. Ideally, lawmakers should put a constitutional amendment on the ballot to abolish the UH selection panel in favor of the successful model for Board of Education, under which the governor appoints whomever he pleases subject to confirmation by the Senate.

This is in line with the American tradition in which the executive appoints and the Legislature advises and consents, and it provides ample checks, balances and accountability.

At the very least, the Legislature must require the selection panel to give the governor four or more candidates to choose from for every seat.

Keep up the pressure in schools

July 18, 2011

I appreciate the frustration in the public school system over the latest round of annual math and reading scores under the federal No Child Left Behind mandate.

Though math scores improved slightly and students held steady in reading, the number of schools meeting proficiency goals, called annual yearly progress, decreased because the goals got tougher this year.

It can give the false impression that the schools are doing worse than last year when student scores are actually a little better.

The frustration was perhaps best expressed by Kalani High School principal Mitchell Otani, who told the Star-Advertiser, “It is my hope that one day schools won’t be judged by one test, but will be judged by the quality of lives of the students we produce.”

I agree that the goals need to but more clearly delineated and reporting needs to be tweaked so parents and the community at large can more cleary grasp how the schools are doing.

But I don’t buy persistent calls to significantly ease up on demands and expectations as the perhaps unrealistic goal of 100 percent proficiency in math and reading by 2014 approaches.

Math and reading the two most basic — and objectively quantifiable — building blocks of a good education. Students who fall short in reading and math can’t excel in social studies and science, either.

If schools are graduating significant numbers of students who can’t read and do math to a minimum level of proficiency, if students have to take remedial courses to get into college and their career opportunities are limited, then quality of life is diminished and schools are underperforming on their most basic function.

Whatever its flaws, No Child Left Behind has been the main driving force in the last decade for gains made in a Hawai‘i school system that has historically resisted taking more accountability upon itself.

Until all elements of the school system embrace a culture of demanding accountability from within, we need the feds playing the bad cops.

City’s spinelessness on bus shelter stinks

July 15, 2011

I can’t stop shaking my head over an excellent story by KITV’s Keoki Kerr about the city’s decision to temporarily move a bus stop on Kapiolani Boulevard across from Nordstrom to avoid dealing with a foul-smelling homeless woman who has been living at the shelter for a year.

You really should see the whole piece, but the gist is that the elderly woman and her belongings smell so bad that those waiting at the stop and catching the waft on the buses can no longer bear it.

Instead of finding a way to remove the woman, the city closed the stop and opened a temporary one down the street, leaving those waiting for buses to stand in the elements while a single person enjoys the comfort of the shelter.

City Transportation Director Wayne Yoshioka told KITV that homeless people have the same rights to use the streets and sidewalks as anybody else, and it’s not illegal to squat at bus shelters. He said the city is showing compassion.

How is it possibly legal for one person to monopolize a public facility for other than its intended purpose while denying its use to the taxpaying public for its intended purpose? How is defacing city property with filth and odor any better than defacing it with graffiti?

These shelters cost millions of dollars to construct and are funded from the property taxes of folks who pay thousands of dollars a month for their own housing. And they can’t use the public structures they’ve built?

People have no right to squat wherever they please when it intrudes on the rights of others to make reasonable use of public property, and the city’s weak-kneed response is an open invitation to the homeless to take over every bus shelter in town.

Finally, how is it possibly compassionate to leave this poor woman sitting in her own horrible stink from God-knows-what bacteria instead of getting her cleaned up, properly fed and provided with the other help she obviously needs?

Going to such extremes to look the other way is an abrogation of our most basic responsibilities to our fellow human beings.

R.I.P. Herb Matayoshi

July 14, 2011

I was sorry to hear of the death of Herbert Matayoshi, a gentleman politician who served as Big Island mayor from 1974 to 1984 after earning his stripes as a leader on the County Council.

Matayoshi, 82, provided Hawai‘i County steady guidance through a period of major political transition, leading with an easy manner and an eye for detail.

While he preferred a low-key approach, he could display a flair for the dramatic.

When the council decided not to reconfirm his respected planning director Raymond Suefuji and corporation counsel Clifford Lum for no apparent reason other than to flex muscle, Matayoshi whipped up community outrage and made the council sit through hours of testimony in favor of his nominees that lasted long into the night.

Then, knowing that the votes wouldn’t change, he threw it in the face of council members by appearing as the last witness and withdrawing the nominations, denying them the satisfaction of the last word.

He gave the Police Commission a public dressing down after the panel called an illegal secret meeting to fire popular Chief Ernest Fergerstrom as he recovered from a stroke.

With his diverse business interests, even after retiring from politics Matayoshi remained a force in the community along with his wife Mary, an educator and volunteer who has been a major figure in her own right.

The couple passed on their passion for public service to their four children, who include state Schools Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi.

Visitation will be at 4 p.m. July 26 at Honolulu’s Borthwick Mortuary, followed by a memorial service at 6 p.m. An observance in Hilo will be held Aug. 15 at Church of the Holy Cross with visitation at 2:30 p.m. and a celebration of life at 4 p.m.

Guv agrees to pay losing bidders

July 13, 2011

The last batch of bills signed by Gov. Neil Abercrombie included one of the hold-your-nose gems of this year’s Legislature — HB 985, which allows the state to reimburse some losing bidders on public works projects  for the cost of preparing their bids.

The measure, which Abercrombie approved without comment, allows the state to spread around more money without evidence of public good to contractors who also happen to be generous campaign contributors to legislators and the governor.

The bill was introduced by Maui Reps. Angus McKelvey, Gil Keith-Agaran, Joe Souki and Kyle Yamashita, along with Kailua Rep. Pono Chong.

The reimbursements would apply to design-build contracts on projects worth $1 million or more, with the top three pre-qualified bidders eligible for repayment on the cost of preparing conceptual design drawings.

Sponsors said such welfare for losing contractors would encourage more small local companies to submit bids, but none of the House and Senate committees that approved the bill offered evidence that other jurisdictions have successfully used such methods to either increase the quality of competition or reduce contract costs.

Paying losing bidders is virtually unheard of in the private sector; reputable contractors view bid preparation as a cost of doing business and have it down to a science.

Testimony in support of the bill came mostly from architects, engineers and other consultants known to make political donations that obviously pay off nicely for them.

The measure was opposed by the City and County of Honolulu, which said, “Codifying a rigid process that destroys flexibility would be costly and disadvantageous.”

HB 985 received unanimous final passage in the House and drew “no” votes in the Senate only from Sens. Clayton Hee, Donna Mercado Kim, Sam Slom and Malama Solomon.

Teachers talks got lost in sour tone

July 12, 2011

I found it fascinating that much of the complaint the Hawaii State Teachers Association filed with the Labor Relations Board over the Abercrombie administration imposing its “last, best and final offer” centered on hurt feelings over the tone of negotiations.

The Star-Advertiser story caught the gist of it in this passage:

HSTA’s complaint details eight months of tense negotiations, during which state chief negotiator Neil Dietz allegedly said in April that unless HSTA agreed to a 5 percent wage reduction, “lots of ‘nasty things can happen to your working conditions.’”

The same month, Dietz responded to an HSTA negotiating team member who asked for more time to consider the 5 percent wage reductions by cursing and hitting the table with his notebook, the filing alleges.

“He got up to leave and said if you don’t accept this, it will be 10 percent by the Legislature,” the complaint said.

The filing also said that in June, (Schools Superintendent Kathryn) Matayoshi told (HSTA leader Wil) Okabe that “if HSTA did not accept the 5 percent cuts, the Department of Education would need to cut 800 jobs, including probationary teachers.”

Despite all the talk we hear about “collaboration,” collective bargaining is an adversarial process that can get rough and tumble as the two sides jockey to find fair terms just short of the point where employees are willing to walk out on strike or the employer is willing to accept a strike.

While negotiators are usually best off when they keep their cool, the tactics ascribed to Dietz and Matayoshi are not beyond the bounds of the acceptable; I’ve heard a lot tougher talk in private-sector labor negotiations.

If an employer needs savings from labor costs and can’t get employees to accept less pay, the only options are to reduce the number of employees or achieve savings by changing working conditions. Pointing out this reality isn’t hitting below the belt.

When Gov. Neil Abercrombie announced his chief labor negotiator would be Dietz, a union guy who previously served as port agent for the Seafarers, many thought public workers would be in for smooth sailing.

But I suspected the going could get rough based on the view of some private-sector union leaders that their counterparts in the public unions are a bunch of privileged wimps.

This divide seems to be playing out in the teachers’ talks.

Here’s the full text of the HSTA complaint, and the governor’s office yesterday issued its own detailed view of how talks broke down. They make for interesting comparison.

Community bad will a curious business strategy for Walgreens

July 11, 2011

I don’t claim expertise in business strategy, but I’m baffled by the move of Walgreens to force the popular Foodland supermarket out of the Koko Marina Center in Hawaii Kai to open its own drug store that nobody seems to be clamoring for.

Walgreens reportedly paid a 15 percent premium to wrest away the space Foodland has held for more than 40 years. Walgreens doesn’t even need all the space and is looking to sublease a piece of it — possibly back to Foodland for a much smaller market.

With Foodland closed for now, residents are outraged at their reduced grocery options and many are promising to boycott the Walgreens.

It’s difficult to see the sense of paying a hefty premium to buy a lot of bad will that could take years to overcome in a community of established residents with long memories. Surely there must have been other space available.

Walgreens has been agressive since moving into Hawaii, often opening stores right in the face of its biggest competitor Longs, an established island institution.

On the Windward side where I live, Walgreens has opened two stores near Longs and from my observations doesn’t seem to be getting nearly the traffic of the competition. It doesn’t help that the Walgreens stores have been picketed by construction unions over the wages they pay.

Maybe it’ll all pay off in the long run, but I’m not seeing how so far.


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