Conversations with Hawaii’s rule makers: disconnected, arrogant, and unresponsive

Hawaii's leaders out of touch and unresponsive to the disasters they are creating for our future

Is the Hong Kong Pro-Democracy Movement a Blueprint for Expression in Hawaii?

After two years of communicating with, or attempting to communicate with key figures in the Governor’s office, attorney general’s office, legislature, DLNR, and DoBOR bureaucracies, we’ve reached the inescapable conclusion that Hawaii’s government has succeeded in fully distancing and isolating itself from the people it’s supposed to be serving. 


What this means for Hawaii's public

As a result of our bureaucracy's chronic pandering to wealthy and corporate interests in Hawaii, and its feckless planing for our future, the cost of living here will skyrocket. Those of you who have to work for a living in Hawaii will find it increasingly more difficult to make ends meet,working two and three jobs will become more normalized while some few will be made homeless and others will find it necessary to leave the islands.  There will be no viable solution tendered for the homelessness problem -- doomed forever to be nothing more than a sound bite during our politicians’ reelection campaigns -- there will be no “affordable housing” in Hawaii and there will be no such thing as a “living wage” in this State.

Public lands will be auctioned off to the highest bidder (in progress right now), and with the pressure to fund even bigger silly projects, property taxes, at some point, MUST skyrocket; public lands will be privatized and the Hawaiian Island chain is now careening towards being turned into one big amusement park for the wealthy, satisfying the bottom lines of multinationals owned by people who don’t even live here.  This is not Internet conspiracy theory -– all of this is in the works right now as I write this.


Conversations with Hawaii rule makers – disconnected, arrogant, and unresponsive

Hawaii lawmakers isolate themselves from the public that they serve.  Yes, they appear to engage and, yes, they’re mostly disingenuous.  But the implications are so much more.  The barrier that has been erected between the public and its government leadership is now so impenetrable as to effectively create an authoritarian ruling environment. 

Here’s how that happens.  First of all, your input is irrelevant.  Comments from the public are entertained simply because it makes good theater, and, on occasion must be endured because of Sunshine Laws.  To be very clear: your comment DOES NOT MATTER.  There are sophisticated mechanisms in place to make sure your voice is never heard.*  While Sunshine Laws require public hearings, there is nothing in the law to compel lawmakers to listen to or even pay attention to you.  The politically correct response to those in the public who actually make it to a public hearing podium is to smile, thank the commenter, and then hope that he or she goes away quickly.

*There are sophisticated mechanisms in place to make sure your voice is never heard, or that your input is exploited by rule makers to further their own agenda:

  • The "don't worry, you can always talk to us in the legislature . . . we allow public comment for legislation that may be concerning to you" deception.  Yes, it is true that you can comment to legislators when new laws are being considered, but you'll have to have absolutely nothing else to do in your life except focus on discovering and then tracking senate and companion house bills, have the ability to travel to the capital building on very short notice (and have the time to fight the traffic that resulted from previous poorly-thought-through legislation, and then find a parking place), and then wait the possibly eight hours before it's your turn to speak for five minutes (only to realize that the legislators who you thought would listen to you, actually weren't listening).
  • And then there's the public hearing shell game:  DLNR chief, Suzanne Case and her sidekick, Ed Underwood are absolute grand masters at this:   so, as an administrator, you're told you have to hold a public hearing as part of the process of getting your pet rules package through the system. The first step is to find a way to limit the number of people that actually make it to the public hearing.  Zero is a nice number, but a few would be okay.  One way to do this is to notify the public via newspaper advertising: put a tiny ad in the paper, at an unannounced random time, that there's going to be a public hearing.  Do you look at the public hearings section of the newspaper everyday?  Neither do I.  Another trick is to make sure that the public meeting location is in such a traffic-congested-from-hell or out of the way location, that the very idea of the journey will put you off. Yet another trick is to change the date, or time, or -- this one makes 'em snicker every time -- the location itself at the last minute.  This latter is good for at least a 50% reduction in attendees.
  • Day of the public meeting: a) no one of any consequence in the administration actually shows up to hear and respond to the public's concerns (true story below); b) the public is limited to just three minutes speaking time.  Three minutes -- you'd have to be Stephen King to compose something relevant for that short a duration;  c) remarkably silly rules during the meeting: "Please do not address the audience! Please face forward and speak to nobody up at the front of the room."  This was taken from an actual first-hand experience when the public at the March 3rd, 2019 DoBOR public hearing for 13-234 realized that they were talking to no one in the front of the room and decided to turn the microphone around so that the speaker could address the audience.
    Weeks later, the public will discover that none of the testimony was considered, archived God-knows-where, and made instantly irrelevant.
  • The "public survey" trick:  a survey, whose questions are carefully crafted to elicit the correct knee-jerk response from a partially-informed (or misinformed) public, is distributed to a pre-selected group of people within a constituency.   The predictable results are then collected, collated and then published in a beautiful glossy media blitz, taxpayer funded, in a kind of "see-I-told-you" confirmation that makes the sponsor politician's agenda look like gold.  Watch out for this one.
  • A close relation to the "public survey" trick is the "wouldn't it be wonderful" trick: so you're a rule maker and your pet political agenda is to privatize public lands.  Here's the recipe for success: Step one:  have a glossy brochure drawn up, at taxpayer's expense, extolling the "before" and "after" virtues of the government mismanaged public property that you'd like to hand over to your buddies in the private corporation that's been pestering you for years.  A poorly informed (or misinformed) public will be much impressed, until it's too late, when they realize that what their trusted representative was talking about was taking away public lands and placing them in the hands of private, for-profit companies.  Too late . . . "but the brochure was so convincing . . .  ."Often, politicians and agency heads will demonize whole neighborhoods during their campaigns to push their private agenda, convincing the poorly informed (or misinformed) that the resulting transformation will "clean up this area. "There are so many more subterfuges that our current rule makers are free to use under our current system of government here in Hawaii.   Don't be gullible, pay attention.  Paying attention is free, the alternative will cost your kids their future.


Here's a case history, a recent example

§13-234, the canary in the mine

The Department of Land and Natural Resources recently decided to revise §13-234 of the Hawaii Administrative Rules, a rules package that would substantially affect all of the boating public in the State of Hawaii.  The new revision would, among other things, raise public boating fees exponentially.  The DLNR would have the public believe that the fee increase numbers were based on an appraisal, but this appraisal turned out to be illegal and irrelevant to the subject at hand. The unspoken DLNR agenda: preparation for the privatization of all submerged and fast public harbor lands in the State of Hawaii.  

Hawaii’s recreational boating community was already reeling from a huge fee increase that had been phased in over a three-year period, the last installment of which ended just a few years ago.  These latest revisions appeared to be hurried, random, and poorly thought through.  The fee increases are so drastic and so sudden that some residents will be forced out of recreational boating.  The bureaucrats responsible for the rules package, Suzanne Case, DLNR Chair, and Ed Underwood, DoBOR administrator, have indicated in no uncertain terms that the consequences to public boating in Hawaii was of little consequence to them –- they are laser focused on making arrangements to hand their charge off to private corporations waiting in the wings.

Rules package vetting process flawed-to-dangerous

During the mandatory vetting process, the rules package revision had to pass through Clare Connor’s office, Hawaii’s attorney general.  Despite the fact that some parts of the statute represented public fraud, the AG rubber stamped the document and sent it through to the governor’s office.  We’ll be generous and say that the governor never read it, because, if he had, he would never, in good conscience, have allowed the package to proceed.  But he did, so obviously he didn’t read it.

Deliberate attempts to minimize public participation in public hearings

In order to lawfully justify the passing of this rules package, the DLNR was required to hold official public hearings, Statewide, and properly advertise the meeting location, times and dates to the public.  Their original notification plan was to simply place an ad in the local newspaper.  When asked when they would place the ad, they replied “sometime between from three months from now to a year.”   This meant that the public would have to look in the newspaper every single day for a year in order to discover the public hearing announcement.  Since people don’t read newspapers in the age of the Internet, this was obviously a tactic designed to minimize attendance at the hearing –- this and similar ploys, especially in the legislature, are very common distancing tactics in Hawaii’s government.  There was a threat of legal challenge. 

It was only after a threat of legal challenge did Underwood’s DoBOR decide to change its tactics and  notify the affected public of the hearing, by email -- not revolutionary since most other governments in civilized societies had already been doing this for years.  Still counting on subterfuge, Underwood then decided not to use the email addresses that his agency already had in its database, but rather, required that the public notify DoBOR, with an email address and a specific message saying he or she wanted to opt into the notification process.  Since the general boating public hadn’t been notified of this strategy, most were unaware of the necessity to send in his or her email address to be placed on the notification list – nothing more than an attempt to cull the crowds from the public hearing process.

Public hearings -- no one to talk to

Despite Underwood’s repeated attempts to minimize attendance at the public hearings, on the day of the first meeting, held on Saturday morning on March 3rd, 2019, the cafeteria at Aiea Elementary school –- no small room –- was standing-room only with affected public wishing to testify.  At the table in the front of the room sat . . . nobody.   Ed Underwood “couldn’t make it . . . “ and Suzanne Case said that it was beneath her to attend public hearings.  No one from the BLNR was in attendance.  The public would address two minor DoBOR employees who were more intent on doodling on scrap paper in front of them than paying attention to the speakers.  There was a technician-looking person there who was operating the large LED timer that faced the crowd -– “THREE MINUTES ONLY PLEASE!” -- and claimed that he was simultaneously operating an audio recorder. No one saw the recorder, but he did appear to be pushing a button, or maybe just pushing down on the table surface in front of him when the next person in line began to speak, in a kind of push-button simulation.

Hundreds of testimonies snubbed . . .  ignored

The entire two hours was filled with testimonies from people who had traveled from every corner of Oahu.  There was 100% opposition to the version of the rules package presented to the public at the time, but there were many constructive suggestions.  Over the next month, similar meetings were held around the Hawaiian islands.  OVER 20 HOURS OF PUBLIC TESTIMONY AND HUNDREDS OF PIECES OF WRITTEN TESTIMONY were received by Suzanne Case’s DLNR and Underwood’s DoBOR.  People who testified came from all walks of life:  architects, lawyers, doctors, former city planners, condominium mangers, and an assortment of professionals/public boaters, many submitting highly informed suggestions aimed at helping to ensure fair rules package verbiage in upcoming revisions of the 13-234 document.

One of the testifiers, an attorney, gently pointed out that some of the 13-234 rules package represented fraud.  For instance, §13-234-10, and §13-234-4. 

Not a single testimony in hundreds, if not thousands, plus 20 hours of recorded audio testimony, was used to modify the final §13-234 document.  Not one.


Attorney General, Clare Connors, useless link in the legal vetting process

The State’s attorney general, Clare Connors, however, seemed almost listless in her response to the legal abuses in the document, freely admitting that she had no idea about what the verbiage actually meant in 13-234 but that it looked okay to her.  We queried as to why the honorable AG didn’t bring in a consultant to help clarify the verbiage, a usual and customary procedure.  We didn’t receive an answer.  §13-234 was reviewed twice by the attorney general’s office, and in both instances she refused to bring in a consultant to clarify the verbiage that she so little understood, blessing the document as being “just fine.”

The governor rubber stamped the document (we’ll say he never read it . . . ).  Our part-time Lt. Governor, Josh Green,may have touched the document with his fingers -- assuming he was even in his office -- and put it away somewhere . . . but he never read it.  And the Board of the Department of Land and Natural Resources appeared genuinely bewildered by the document and blessed it because Suzanne Case, she’s an attorney too, told them it was a good deal and they were gullible enough to believe her.


The recent §13-234 rules package was the litmus test that exposed Hawaii’s elephant in the room

§13-234 was the litmus test, the canary in the mine, the red flag that alerted us to the extent of the disease now consuming our ruling class today: arrogance, personal and political agendas, and a complete disregard for the impact of their decisions on the public and the future of Hawaii.

We have to ask ourselves:  shouldn’t we vet our leadership more carefully?  Where do we go from here? 

Are Hong Kong protesters providing us with a blueprint for expression here in Hawaii?    




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