Posted tagged ‘Neil Abercrombie’

Abercrombie ups the stakes on homelessness

July 27, 2011

Progress has been painfully slow in Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s high-profile battle to end homelessness in Hawai‘i, but give him credit for continuing to hack away at the problem and increase his personal accountability.

A state phone line set up for citizens to report homeless people in need of services drew some derision when few useful calls came in.

Some religious groups doggedly resisted the call of the governor and his homelessness czar Marc Alexander to stop feeding programs in the parks and instead move meal services to the shelters where the homeless can receive other help as well.

And at the halfway point of Abercrombie’s 90-day homelessness initiative, an unimpressive report card had just slightly more than 100 of Hawai‘i’s thousands of homeless helped off the streets.

Undaunted, the governor has now formally created a Hawai’i Interagency Council on Homelessness to bring together representatives from state, county and federal agencies and the private sector to coordinate social services for the homeless, increase transitional and permanent housing, pursue more federal funding and replicate successful initiatives in other states.

Abercrombie will chair the panel himself, putting his own neck on the line politically if the results don’t match the high expectations he’s set.

The latest move gets beyond the official urgency to do something to get the homeless off O‘ahu streets before the APEC meeting in November and reinforces the idea that solving the thorny problem of homelessness is more of a marathon than a sprint.

While the governor looks to the long term, state Reps. John Mizuno and Rida Cabanilla are calling their Human Services and Housing committees together Thursday to look specifically at issues surrounding APEC and the homeless.

A specific item on the agenda at 10 a.m. in Capitol conference room 329 is creating safe zones for the homeless around the island.

It’s always an adventure when Mizuno and Cabanilla get their heads together, but safe zones are worth considering on at least a temporary basis.  We can’t keep telling the homeless where they can’t go without giving them someplace they can go.

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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.

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.

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.

Abercrombie’s budget strategy is on target

June 24, 2011

Gov. Neil Abercrombie is on the right track in ordering state departments to cover the remaining $50 million budget shortfall for 2012 by finding entire programs that can be eliminated instead of making across-the-board cuts.

Slashing across the board is a poor management practice that sidesteps any setting of priorities and bleeds every program equally without regard for its relative value to the state’s health and welfare.

Former Gov. Linda Lingle relied on this approach as state revenues plunged during the recession, and as a result, many of the most important state agencies are left without the resources to adequately fulfill their core functions.

Every program supported by the state has its constituency and terminating them can be painful, as with the administration’s recent decision to end state subsidies for Vanpools Hawai‘i.

This is a good program that gets cars off of our congested roads, but better to eliminate expenses like these that are toward the edges of the of the state’s primary responsibilities than to cut deeper than necessary into core functions such as education, public health and the social safety net.

As always, the devil is in the details and whatever programs state agencies target for elimination are going to make some people angry.

But the governor’s  insistence on setting clear priorities that preserve the most funding where it is most needed is a welcome step.

Fix system for appointing UH regents

June 21, 2011

The discussion following yesterday’s post on Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s requests for the resignations of board and commission members took a turn to the selection process for University of Hawai’i regents, so let’s stick with that for another day.

The governor used to appoint regents of his or her choosing, subject to confirmation by the Senate — similar to the process recently enacted for appointing the Board of Education.

But in a move to handcuff former Republican Gov. Linda Lingle, the Legislature pushed through a constitutional amendment forcing the governor to pick regents from a list provided by a selection panel that can provide as few as two choices.

Then-UH President David McClain derided the selection panel as a “Noah’s Ark” of special interests, and the leading national organization for accrediting colleges and universities recommended strongly against the change as bad practice.

They were right and the system has been fraught with problems. In one instance, one of the two candidates provided Lingle by the selection panel withdrew and the Supreme Court ruled that she had no right to a replacement, leaving her with a single choice.

More recently, Abercrombie didn’t like the few candidates given him for two Big Island seats, but was turned down by the panel when he asked for more choices. He appointed from what he had and the Senate Education Committee rejected both nominees as ill qualified.

Defenders say the system prevents the concentration of too much power with the governor, but also complain about the sometimes low number and poor quality of applicants who send resumes to the selection panel.

We were far better off when the governor could go out and recruit qualified regents instead of being limited to the sometimes lackluster choices that the selection panel receives over the transom.

Our democratic tradition is an executive branch of government that appoints and a legislative branch that advises and consents, with ample checks and accountability on both sides.

These selection panels impose an advisory branch of government in between the governor and Legislature that only obscures the clean line of accountability that’s our best shot at keeping the system honest. Spreading the power around too thinly only guarantees that little gets done.

Lingle, Abercrombie and Senate Education Chairwoman Jill Tokuda all agree that the system for appointing UH regents is flawed and needs to be fixed.

The Legislature should attend to it next session.


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