LETTER: Hold Council Member No-Shows Accountable
by Nate Gaddis
Sometimes, finding a member of the Hawai`i County Council feels like a game of hide-and-seek.
Such was the case for a small band of would-be do-gooders in 2010, when we attempted to meet with then-councilwoman Emily Naeole about saving the Hawai`i County Band from the mayor’s budget axe that year.
After contacting her office and setting an appointment, then confirming that appointment, we made the trip out to Puna for some quality-time with one of the council’s larger-than-life characters.
Emily was nowhere to be seen when we arrived, although we were admittedly a tad early. We were assured she would be along shortly, and we settled into the waiting room to admire the paintings and photographs of Mrs. Naeole that adorned the walls.
Half an hour passed before her assistant came to greet us. “Mrs. Naeole had urgent business to attend to in Hilo, and will be a little late,” said the pleasant woman, who then ushered us into a conference room and urged us to begin voicing our concerns.
She took notes as we described at length the band’s 127-year-old history, dating back to its founding by the Hawaiian Kingdom. Her assistant then left to make a phone call to the councilwoman, before returning to exclaim with enthusiasm “Emily is with you guys 100%! You can count on her” and explaining to us that the “urgent business” Emily was on would prevent us from seeing her that day.
A few days later, before a public hearing on the mayor’s budget, we thanked Mrs. Naeole ahead of time for her support, and expressed regret at not having met with her in person.
“Sorry, braddah” she said to one of us, before explaining “I had for buy one car for my husband.”
Mrs. Naeole’s then-spouse would soon head for Alaska, later claiming she had hired someone to threaten him. As for Emily, her time at the council would shortly come to an end in the following election.
For her part, Emily was (and is) a productive, concerned member of the Big Island community, having helped to establish the highly successful Maku`u Farmers Market, and passing legislation aimed at protection island keiki.
But our failed search for Mrs. Naeole wasn’t unique, and was but one example of island politicians going AWOL. Failures to call back constituents, or even to simply show up for council votes have been common over the years.
Members Donald Ikeda and Dennis Onishi were the subject of an ethics complaint in June, when Terri Napeahi of the Pele Defense Fund brought to light an attendance report showing they had missed between 23-30 percent of the votes taken over a 16 month period.
Newly appointed Council Chairman J Yoshimoto proposed rule changes to address some of these problems, including a requirement that council members give written notice if they will be absent, and allowing censure for members who are repeated no-shows.
Those changes, along with several others were adopted at the first meeting of the new council, held yesterday in Hilo.
Yoshimoto’s changes don’t address missed appointments or lack of communication with constituents, but they represent the most recent attempt to hold members accountable for some aspect of their performance.
But the new requirements are vague on what consequences a councilmember would face for “playing hooky.” The recent changes simply call for a possible “censure” of a perpetual no-show. Whether that means a simple wag-of-the finger, or some variation of the internet craze of dog-shaming is unclear.
“Censure” could of course just be a symbolic gesture, leaving the final judgement of a councilmember’s performance for the next election.
But two years is a long time and a lot of paychecks to wait through before tossing a bad apple. Our council members need more accountability when it comes to the most basic aspect of work itself: