Archive for July 2011

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.

Challenges lie ahead for Hawaiian recognition

July 8, 2011

I’d like to feel good about the native Hawaiian recognition act signed into law by Gov. Neil Abercrombie, but it’s getting difficult to muster optimism as thorny issues of Hawaiian rights drag out.

The measure forms a commission to establish a roll of qualified Hawaiians, with the hope of eventually leading Hawai‘i’s indigenous people to some form of sovereign self-government.

The problem is that sovereignty implies a measure of independence from the state government, and it’s inherently contradictory for the state to organize the effort after Hawaiians have failed to organize themselves or even agree on a definition of sovereignty in the more than 30 years since the  movement began.

The state Office of Hawaiian Affairs, which is paying for the new effort, came up short in its well-publicized Kau Inoa program to organize a Hawaiian roll and constitutional convention. Prominent Hawaiian activist Bumpy Kanahele failed to gain traction with a similar effort.

The failure of Hawai‘i’s congressional delegation to pass the federal Akaka bill for Hawaiian political recognition exposes any special rights for Hawaiians granted by the state to legal challenges, as with the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Rice v. Cayetano ruling that struck down Hawaiian-only voting in OHA elections.

The gathering for Abercrombie’s bill signing at Washington Place was telling. The celebrants inside were the “haves” among Hawaiians — legislators, OHA trustees, civic clubs, ali‘i trusts — who enjoy considerable power in the broad community and aren’t inclined to greatly rock the boat.

The Hawaiian “have nots” who have little power and want to get it by restoring a truly independent Hawaiian government were out on the sidewalk protesting the bill as a sellout of Hawaiian rights.

No sovereignty drive will achieve credibility until Hawaiians can organize a leadership and agenda on their own and sell it to a critical mass of the diverse population of people with native blood.

Plunking for Shane

July 7, 2011

I pretty much confine my voting to going to the polls on election day and have never been a fan of participating in shows like “American Idol” or voting in the online polls sponsored by news organizations.

So I was much surprised to find myself sitting with my iPad last night casting vote after vote to help Maui boy Shane Victorino of the Philadelphia Phillies play in the All-Star Game next Tuesday in Phoenix.

Victorino is competing against four other standouts for the final spot on the National League roster, similar to the spot he was in two years ago when he won the voting and made his first all-star appearance.

Major League Baseball lets you cast as many votes as you like as long as you’re willing to keep punching in a five-digit validation code, and by time my finger got tired, I must have cast a couple of hundred ballots for Victorino.

It was partly about supporting the local guy, but mostly it was an expression of respect for the way Victorino plays the game and carries himself.

He’s arguably the most accomplished and durable baseball player ever to come out of Hawai‘i. He plays centerfield for a team that’s always competing for a championship and won it once, contributing something every game with his bat, his golden glove and his hustle on the bases.

Off he field, he’s a class act who treats everybody with respect, takes being a role model for young people seriously and makes numerous community contributions in both his home state and adopted city.

He’s paid millions like other premium players of the modern era, but you get the feeling he’s one of those throwback guys who would play just as hard for free out of love of the game.

You can vote for Victorino until balloting ends at 10 a.m. today Hawai‘i time. The easiest place to find the ballot is at

Give the kids a place at the table in school contract talks

July 6, 2011

It’s disappointing that the stalled contract negotiations between the state and public school teachers appear to be focused entirely on pay and benefits, with little discussion of promised reforms to improve student learning.

After the furlough Fridays fiasco, the Legislature tried to mollify angry parents with new laws requiring a minimum of 180 instruction days a year and more hours of the school day devoted to instruction.

In its successful application for a $75 million federal “Race to the Top” grant, the Department of Education and unions representing teachers and principals promised to immediately work toward performance-based contracts for teachers and principals based in large part on improving the poor performance of Hawai‘i  students in standardized national tests.

From what his been disclosed publicly, these issues have not been significantly addressed in negotiations between the state and teachers union, which hit an impasse over the state’s demand that teachers take a 5 percent pay cut and pay a bigger share of their medical premiums.

Nor were these reforms a significant part of earlier state negotiations with the Hawaii Government Employees Association, in which the principals accepted the pay and health insurance terms teachers balked at.

Admittedly, recessionary times that require pay cuts to balance the state budget aren’t the best environment to seek more work and accountability from teachers and principals, but neither is a bad economy a license to abandon promises both sides have made to put a structure in place to better achieve the mission of the public schools.

We always say that the school system in first and foremost about the needs of the kids. When it comes down to brass tacks, however, it always seems to be more about what’s in it for the adults.

I look more closely at the standoff on the teachers contract in my column in today’s Star-Advertiser, “Teachers union should settle contract mess outside of court.”

HART saves the fight for another day

July 5, 2011

Members of the new Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation were smart to sidestep a lawsuit over who sets its budget, but it remains to be seen if the matter is settled or just postponed for a year.

The City Council insists it has the right under the City Charter to approve HART’s annual budget, while the Carlisle administration argues that the semi-autonomous agency sets it’s own budget independently of the council.

At its first meeting Friday, the HART board avoided a confrontation by adopting exactly the $20.5 million operating budget and $354.7 million capital budget passed by the council.

“Legal action is clearly not in the best interest of the taxpayers,” said HART finance chairman Don Horner, in a sentiment that surely reflects the public mood on this contentious $5.3 billion project. “We’re confident the majority of the council want to see rail move forward and there’s no sense in arguing about technicalities at this point.”

Of course, the operative words were “at this point.” We’ll see next year whether HART submits its budget to the council for approval — or what the board does if the council adopts its own budget for the agency.

Horner pledged somewhat vaguely to “provide oversight” to both the council and city administration on finances and “to engage the public in the budgetary process.”

It’ll be an interesting tap dance — especially with the always combative Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi back in charge of the Budget Committee.

But now was not the right time for a fight the mayor and council seemed to be champing at the bit for, and the HART board deserves early kudos for recognizing it.

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