Thursday, February 01, 2007


The governor has no clothes

There's no substitute for true journalistic training, skill and years of experience. Reading Ian Lind's A seductive tale in this week's Honolulu Weekly (not on the web yet) impressed me with Ian's x-ray vision clarity and ability to reframe an issue to reveal its underlying truth.

In other words, I was reminded that I can rant, but Ian can write.

Ian contrasted the governor's annual speech with the reality on the ground. He criticized the governor for denouncing land development one day and doing a land deal the next. He highlighted the economic woes faced by the University of Hawaii due to factors including
the last high-tech research boondoggle promoted by politicians, the new medical school and "wellness" complex in Kaka`ako. The Legislature rushed to support that high-tech vision after backers of the Kaka`ako project promised millions in outside funds would flow in as local biotech startups bloomed and mainland companies eagerly relocated their research jobs and dollars into the state. But the wave of support never materialized and the build-it-and-they-will-come project has left the University of Hawai`i scrambling to cover a large operating deficit that is sucking money and resources from other parts of the system to keep the med school complex afloat.
As I read that, I was thinking of my testimony on the governor's innovation in education bill yesterday. I thought: here we go again, can we be fooled into chasing a high-tech dream yet again?

How will a university, already starved for cash, be able to take on yet another grandiose project? Or do they expect a cash influx from the legislature via this education program to ease their pain? HPU and Chaminade are also anxious to jump on the bandwagon.

Unlike the medical research project, this game would be played out not in Kaka`ako but in the schools, and at our children's expense. I would feel differently if the governor had huddled with the Superintendent over the past few months and announced a joint initiative. But that's not the way the governor's PR machine works.

And there are glaring weakenesses in state government that the governor might attend to instead. Like Mayor Harris' famous potholes, yawning gaps in management and planning at the state level that are actually threatening lives are being revealed. Shouldn't those be remedied before we go off on another high-tech wild goose chase?

Ian is on target when he lists a number of problems found in audits and a report on conditions at the University of Hawaii. He urges
These are management problems that ultimately are the responsibility of the state's top officer, the governor. Instead of public relations promises, we all might be better off if the governor spent her next four years providing the back-to-basic leadership needed to bring modern management and innovation into existing state departments and offices.
The following observations are mine, not Ian's. These are things on my mind at the moment:
  • We found out a year ago that when dams go uninspected, people are killed and property is damaged. Mother nature could not have done that alone. (Mother nature won't be sued, by the way, but the state might be, and we taxpayers will have to foot the bill.)
  • We now know that warning sirens are out of order, but those in charge can't seem to fix them in a timely fashion. Like the dams, these sirens did not all go bad at once, their inspection and maintenance were neglected. Planning meetings on disaster preparedness are being held in secret. The public is being excluded. Can things be that bad? You bet.
  • And most recently, we learned that the state is incapable of scrambling to fix dangerous pedestrian crossings. They don't want to fix anything until (maybe) 2010. Like the dams and sirens, problem intersections should be corrected routinely.
This neglect (and there's more) is a symptom of gross indifference to the stewardship of our island infrastructure. We claim to have a state surplus, and both the governor and the legislature seem anxious to either spend it or refund it. Let's see if this session also results in fixes for some of our pressing problems (hint to legislators).

I have to leave the last word on fixing state management problems to Ian:
The payoff might be more real, immediate and lasting than slick promises to reshape our collective destiny.


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