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OPINION: Jamae Kawauchi, It’s Time for You to Go

October 5, 2012, 11:18 AM HST
* Updated October 5, 2:06 PM
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Oh, Jamae. What a time we’ve had.

Admittedly, we haven’t had much time with our county elections clerk, Jamae Kawauchi. But that only makes the fleeting moments ever more memorable.

Over the last few weeks, Ms. Kawauchi has been playing hard-to-get with the Big Island press and our state elections office over her department’s botched handling of the Aug. 11 primary.

It may not have been quite as much of a letdown as the failed Stevie Wonder concert by the University of Hawaii, but the absence of our county clerk at a state elections workshop held on Sept. 10 to review effective procedures was a serious bummer for the public interest.

Two days later, she swooped in to testify at a County Board of Ethics hearing and attacked its chairman, John Dill. Kawauchi criticized Dill for drafting a letter in July (prior to the botched primary) that requested she be removed from her post, and her office be placed under the authority of the state attorney general.

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At the hearing, Kawauchi performed what could best be described as a drive-by testimony, popping in to accuse the ethics board chairman of having an “ethics problem,” while failing to file an affidavit containing her complaints.

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After stirring up the ethics board, our county clerk managed to miss a key deadline, failing to deliver a corrective action plan to the state Office of Elections by the requested Sept. 27 due date.

Although she managed to show up for the second elections workshop that same day, state election officials indicated that some of her comments at the meeting became cause for additional concern over her ability to carry out a successful Nov. 6 general election.

On Oct. 2, Kawauchi was quoted in a Honolulu Star Advertiser article as being confident about her preparations for Nov. 6.

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That same day, it was announced that the state Office of Elections had seized control of voting activities for the general election on the Big Island. State elections spokesman Rex Quidilla explained that a combination of poor performance and bad communication skills on the part of Kawauchi led the state to take control.

It’s about time.

Ms. Kawauchi can’t manage to return calls to media outlets that are based in the county she has been hired to serve, much less to state superiors. Yet she seems to find time to bash other county officials, and chat with Oahu-based press.

The fact that she couldn’t manage to meet a critical deadline set by the state sent a clear signal that if left to her own devices, our general election was in jeopardy of becoming another embarrassment.

It’s worth remembering that prior to 2012, Big Island elections ran rather smoothly. So how did we get here?

Several experienced elections workers were fired by Kawauchi in January for having a post-election party in 2010 in a county-rented storage warehouse. Alcohol was allegedly consumed at the event, which is against official county policy.

Hilo attorney Ted Hong is representing some of the elections workers fired by Jamae Kawauchi in a lawsuit. File photo.

According to an attorney representing several of the fired employees, Kawauchi ejected one woman from her position as a senior elections clerk just two days before she was set to transfer to a lower-paying post on Kauai.

Three of those workers won reinstatement to their jobs recently, including former elections administrator Pat Nakamoto, who was immediately placed on paid leave by Kawauchi. She has since been reinstated, but according to her doctor has been unable to return to work because of stress from the ongoing events. Fired warehouse manager Glen Shikuma passed away unexpectedly on Maui in August amidst the drama.

Kawauchi herself was appointed to the post of County Clerk in December of 2010, and recently found herself one of several defendants in a lawsuit filed by attorney Ted Hong on behalf of Nakamoto and former senior elections clerk Shyla Ayau. The lawsuit alleges defamation, emotional distress, and negligence.

Both Jamae Kawauchi and state Chief Elections Officer Scott Nago appeared before the press on Oahu after a meeting with the state attorney general Thursday afternoon, and attempted to reassure the public that the upcoming general election will go smoothly.

Hopefully now that the state is involved, that will prove to be the case.

But regardless of the outcome on Nov. 6, the Hawaii County Council needs to recognize the obvious, that a fresh serving of humble pie for our county clerk just won’t cut it.

It’s time for Jamae to go.

If only Stevie Wonder were around to serenade her exit…

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