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2005 Sour Poi Awards

When you look back on a year that's just ended, especially one dominated by big events-war, elections-it's easy to forget about the little things that happened.

 

Do you remember that, in 2004, mice ran amok in Makakilo while feral peacocks menaced Mililani?

Or that the Hawai'i State Bar Association, apparently realizing that people dislike lawyers, hired a PR firm to help improve their image?

Or that the state Legislature cooked up a bill allowing the state to deny information to "vexatious requesters?"

Thus we bring you our annual Sour Poi Awards, to commemorate those small moments we may all find vexatious.

Off to a great start

 

At his first press conference, new Honolulu police chief Boisse Correa banned TV news cameras and reporters' tape recorders. Correa said he preferred the "old-school" ways, in which reporters would hand-write their notes. Otherwise, he said, reporters end up "dictating to HPD how to do the story" or "take different potshots at the chief."

During the news conference that followed, Correa said he wanted HPD to be "as open as possible."

 

Slap that one next to your "PUINSAI" bumper stickers, kids

A federally financed sex-education program came to Hawai'i, urging teenagers to abstain from sex. The program adopted the slogan, "Try Wait!"

 

Eh, Sonny, no make li'dat

In one of the odder sideshows of the Dobelle affair, the embattled university president appeared on Mike Buck's KHVH radio show, only to be accosted by a caller with a heavy pidgin accent who identified himself as "Sonny from Kapolei." Dobelle quickly recognized the caller as state Sen. Fred Hemmings and challenged him. "Fred, I gotta understand something, Fred. Did you just call in the radio station and give them a false name?" Dobelle asked. Chagrined, Hemmings confessed that it was really him. Hemmings doesn't even represent Kapolei. His district is Kailua-Waima-nalo-Hawai'i Kai.

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!

Even among Hawai'i's star-struck daily media, The Honolulu Advertiser excelled in Idol worship. It spent weeks obsessively covering Jasmine Trias' progress on the reality TV show, American Idol, including front-page stories, column drops, profiles, interviews, letters-to-the editor forums, a Web site special project on the show-anything the paper could do to stoke the fires of "Jasmania." But as soon as Trias was off the show, The Advertiser issued a sanctimonious editorial bemoaning the fact that Hawai'i residents can't muster the same mania for public education, recycling, homelessness or voting.as Trias was off the show, The Advertiser issued a sanctimonious editorial bemoaning the fact that Hawai'i residents can't muster the same mania for public education, recycling, homelessness or voting.

... Then again, maybe they have a point
Hawai‘i votes cast for George W. Bush: 194,191
Hawai‘i votes cast for John Kerry: 231,708
Hawai‘i votes cast for Jasmine Trias: 1.3 to 4.3 million per episode of American Idol

 

 

Damn French

Last spring, taro production was at an all-time low. A big problem was that something was eating the taro long before people could, namely, Pomacea canaliculata, the apple snail, originally imported to the Islands to be sold as escargot.

 

You mean, soldiers swear in combat? Gosh, war must be heck

Nationally, ABC aired the World War II film Saving Private Ryan to commemorate Veterans Day. But a number of ABC affiliates, including Honolulu's KITV, pulled the film for fear that its content would bring about fines for indecency by the Federal Communications Commission. Steven Spielberg won a best-director Oscar for this film's honest portrayal of how everyday soldiers hold onto their humanity in the face of war's brutality. But the film "contains 47 uses of the F-word and graphic violence," explained KITV president and general manager Mike Rosenberg. KITV aired the maudlin Tom Cruise-Nicole Kidman historical romance Far and Away instead.

 

The light at the end of the tunnel

Last summer, Big Island police and federal law-enforcement officers embarked on Operation Pono Hawai'i, making 98 arrests through Hilo, Puna and Hämäkua in order to clear a backlog of unserved arrest warrants. When it was over, only 3,000 to 4,000 unserved warrants on the Big Island remained.

 

"For cause?" what cause? just because?

It took the regents nine days to officially notify University of Hawai'i president Evan Dobelle of his firing, even after it had been front-page news locally and splashed across Mainland media. The regents' letter didn't say why they fired him. Nor would they tell the public what had made them so confident they could fire Dobelle for "cause." According to Dobelle's contract with UH, "cause" was defined as conviction of a felony, mental instability as diagnosed by a physician or conduct displaying "moral turpitude."

By the time Dobelle and the regents came out of mediation, the regents had rescinded the "for cause" element of the firing and given Dobelle a settlement package worth $3.4 million, including nearly $300,000 to pay Dobelle's attorneys.

 

Hawai'i-The great melting pot

Kaua'i police commissioner Leon Gonsalves Sr. launched himself into local and national infamy when, in an email, he referred to Kaua'i's new police chief, K.C. Lum, as "Hop Sing"-a derogatory allusion to a stereotyped Chinese cook character from the Western TV series, Bonanza. Gonsalves apologized when the email surfaced. After two weeks of public outrage, Kaua'i Mayor Bryan Baptiste asked Gonsalves to resign. As of this writing, Gonsalves has refused.

 

The no-go logo fiasco-Part deux

After a failed $74,000 attempt in 2003 to find a new logo, the University of Hawai'i tried again last year. It generated six new designs and put them up for a public vote of confidence. Forty-nine percent of respondents chose "none of the above." After 18 months and $151,000, UH scrapped its logo quest and chose to stick with its current seal.

Through the looking glass

Illustrations: Michael Austin

 

In one of his last interviews, Mayor Jeremy Harris angrily complained that three years of news coverage about improper contributions to his campaign amounted to a "smear" that he has had to "sit back and bear." Added Harris, "I'm sure there's not a person on the street who doesn't believe that you trade contracts for contributions in Honolulu."

Whatever gave us that idea? By 2004, 30 people had been charged with campaign-related offenses in a three-year investigation into the campaign finances of Harris and top state politicians.

In July, one of these people-Lee Takushi, vice president of SSFM International-pleaded no contest to charges that he steered $28,000 in illegal campaign contributions to Harris. Takushi's lawyer explained that he had done so out of a 50-year tradition in which companies fund local politicians in hopes that they'll favor local companies over Mainland companies with big public-works contracts.

Kill Haole day

By last June, it was obvious that there were deep tensions between Evan Dobelle and the Board of Regents. On June 13, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin reported that the regents were considering sacking the president. Regent James Haynes insisted that talk of firing Dobelle was "irresponsible" and "conjecture." The conjecture proved accurate. Three days later, the board terminated Dobelle "for cause," insisting that this freed the university from paying out a $2.2-million severance package.

Put in his proper place and all that kind of stuff

Last year, state Sen. Cal Kawamoto found himself under investigation by the state Campaign Spending Commission. So he introduced a bill that would give senators the power to hire-and fire-the head of the campaign spending commission. Said Kawamoto, "They're dealing with our lives and all that kind of stuff. We want the proper people in there."

The bill went nowhere. Kawamoto's fellow Democrats were so embarrassed by his ploy, they forced Kawamoto to give up jurisdiction over campaign finance-related bills.

In July, Kawamoto was fined $21,000 for not reporting campaign contributions and using campaign funds for personal expenses, including the purchase of a $26,000 car. In the September primary election, Clarence Nishihara, a retired vice principal with less than $9,000 in his campaign, unseated 10-year incumbent Kawamoto and his quarter-million-dollar war chest.

Our city of ruins

A persistent criticism of the Harris administration was that Harris's pharaoronic impulse to build things left the city with amenities it couldn't maintain, while compromising its ability to take care of daily businesses. True? Consider …

Going nowhere:

Two trams the city purchased for Hanauma Bay in 2002, costing $124,000 each, don't work. The Honolulu Star-Bulletin found them in 2004, abandoned by the side of the steep road leading up from the beach to the park, grass growing around their wheels. Turns out the new trams had broken after their first month of operation, defeated by the road's incline.

 

Shell game:

The Hanauma Bay nature preserve's manager asked to fill vacant maintenance positions, hire a ranger and a clerk, install a security camera, buy a defibrillator and more. The city said no, although the Hanauma Bay Special Fund was running a $1.4 million surplus-something no one knew until the city attempted to raid more than $1 million from that surplus to balance its general-fund budget.

 

Sign of the times:

The Hawai'i Kai neighborhood marker, a city vision-team project, has been plagued with problems. It was built facing the wrong direction, requiring an overhaul. The 'okina in "Hawai'i" faced the wrong way and had to be fixed. Now it's cracked and leaning, which the city blames on vandalism. The community insists the damage is due to poor construction. As of November, the city had yet to begin the needed $20,000 worth of repair work, and had also ignored offers from community members to fix the sign themselves.

 

Died on the vine:

Another vision-team project in Salt Lake has fallen into disrepair. In 2002, the city spent $1.3 million on sprinklers and vines to cover concrete walls along Salt Lake Boulevard, which had become a magnet for graffiti. Two years later, much of the landscaping had died, and the graffiti was back. The vision team insists the city installed the irrigation system improperly. The city blames-any guesses?-yes, vandals, for breaking the sprinklers.

 

Cut to the quick:

The city hadn't pruned keawe trees in the undeveloped Laukahi Slopes Park, by Wai'alae Iki, for eight years. One of the neighboring residents, Ralph Rosenberg, sent letters requesting that the trees be trimmed. When these were ignored, he himself paid $2,000 for landscapers to do the job. Neighbors, who thought he should get a citation of merit, finally wrote a letter to the city defending Rosenberg, because, by then, the city was threatening to cite him with-what else?-vandalism.

 

Too broke to fix it:

Last winter, heavy rains opened a rash of potholes that the city seemed hard pressed to patch. The explanation then came to light: More than $2 million worth of road repairs authorized in 2003 had never been carried out due to a staff shortage. Due to tight budgets, the city's Division of Road Maintenance had 220 vacancies in its staff of 778.

 

Eyes wide shut:

Six of the city's police surveillance cameras in Chinatown and Waikïkï are broken, and will remain broken, because the city's maintenance agreement with its vendor doesn't cover the needed repairs.

 

Oh, crap:

Two million gallons of raw sewage spilled from a 66-inch city sewer line on Sand Island. One luckless diver had the job of swimming up this pipe to find all the cracks. Last year, environmental groups filed a lawsuit against the city for its failure to maintain the sewers.

 

If it ain't broke, landscape it:

Meanwhile, the city had plenty of resources to build things citizens didn't want. For example, Waikïkï residents and businesses opposed the city's plan to beautify Ala Wai Boulevard by taking away parking spaces, adding 21 landscaped "bulb-outs" and a bike lane. The district's city councilman, Charles Djou, called the project "nonsensical." The city went ahead anyway. After $2.5 million worth of work, Ala Wai Boulevard now has one less functional lane for traffic, 60 fewer parking spaces-and still looks like a scraggly line of palm trees along a bleak canal.

 

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,January

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