Saturday, January 05, 2008


Lingle stonewalls Auditor's investigation while ferry changes course

by Larry Geller

I thought Charles Memminger was in charge of jokes at the Star-Bulletin. But he didn't write this, appearing in the article, Superferry to have 2 Maui trips daily:

Hawaii Superferry President John Garibaldi said the company needs more time to work with the Kauai community before resuming service there.

This is so deep! First, it's not clear that Garibaldi has really even begun to work with the Kauai community. But the real laugh is that our newspapers continue to dutifully write down whatever Garibaldi says.

Company officials said they are still meeting with communities on Kauai to ensure a safe and successful resumption of operation.

Have I missed something (it's possible)? Where and when did these meetings take place, who conducted them ("company officials", maybe?), how many attended, why didn't the Star-Bulletin report on them? Were they successful? Do Kauai citizens now feel more comfortable with the prospect of Superferry service to their island? Why am I asking this instead of the reporter??

Journalism suffers when reporters don't even ask softball questions. From the same article:

Maui Mayor Charmaine Tavares said she is "disappointed" in the decision and that the company did not consult with the Maui community.

You'd think that this would be a "hint" to the reporter that claims of outreach and caring for the community could and should be questioned. Nevermind, probably the assignments are just to record what they say, and so what is a poor reporter to do.

The Tavares "disappointed" quote is not a result of reportorial digging, the Mayor sent out a press release yesterday. The traffic study concerns mentioned in the article were also in the press release.

The story does have some meat:

Meanwhile, state Auditor Marion Higa said the Lingle administration has not released many of the documents her office has requested for an audit on the decision to start the ferry service without an environmental study.

Higa said she will not be able to meet a March 2 deadline to complete the audit because the documents are still being reviewed by state attorneys.

In a separate article we learn that Lingle may be emulating George Bush again by claiming "executive privilege" and not releasing documents:

State Attorney General Mark Bennett said his office has released thousands of pages to the auditor, but all the information the auditor wants must be reviewed before it can be released.

Bennett said his attorneys have to go through each page and e-mail to determine if they include legal advice requested by a state official exercising attorney-client privilege.

"It's a huge request," Bennett said. "We have made it a large priority. We have not been treating them as unimportant."

Higa said disagreements have also arisen about whether Lingle and department officials can claim "executive privilege" in restricting access to documents.

"They can make those claims. It depends on how they apply those claims," Higa said yesterday.

Higa, speaking this week during a Senate Ways and Means briefing, said since November she has received only one of 30 boxes of documents requested from the Lingle administration.

The last laugh was reading that once again Sen. Fred Hemmings has jumped in to defend Lingle:

State Senate Republican Minority Leader Fred Hemmings said the Democrats have used the audit to thwart and harass the Lingle administration.

Hemmings accused Democrats of micromanaging the executive branch of government.

"Marion Higa is the legislative auditor and obviously doing the bidding of those who appointed her," Hemmings said yesterday.

For many of us, Marion Higa is as close to a saint as we have in state government. Hemmings also separates himself from the rest of the Legislature, you'll notice. Higa is also his auditor, after all. Could Hemmings' example of what it is to be a Republican in Hawaii be part of why there are now so few of them?

Ok, getting serious again, maybe the Superferry "company officials" are happy enough with the thought that they don't have to run to Kauai to pick up the small number of passengers who might sign up. It's a good excuse to make a second (more profitable?) run to Maui.

You'd think that they would at least have discussed this with Maui folks (government and community). Next time a paper reports on their "outreach" I'll be busting a rib laughing so much. Sorry, I was trying to be serious, really. See, bloggers have more fun.

We'll never know if avoiding Kauai is the company's secret strategy, of course. It would be helpful, in evaluating the future of interisland ferry transportation, if the papers would report the actual passenger count, not the numbers fed to them by the company. Independent observers (not working for the newspapers) have reported low ridership. With air fares going up a smidge, indeed, more people may ride the ferry. If they don't, we need to know that too.

The ongoing ferry saga is no laughing matter at all. We could use some serious examination of how the ferry business is going at present.

We also need to look out for the health of island agriculture, and the invasive species discussion has dropped from media radar. It shouldn't be ignored. The Varroa destructor bee mites may have already hopped a ride to Maui. Where's the story on that?



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