FBI digs into planning department

SUBHEAD: Ian Costa didn’t simply resign - the measured hesitating speeches, the down-looking faces showed something big was afoot.  

By Andy Parx on 29 November 2010 for Parx News Network -  

Image above: Ian Costa at Planning Commission Meeting in October. From (http://thegardenisland.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/article_96ece688-cf7f-11df-89ab-001cc4c03286.html).

The sudden resignation of Planning Director Ian Costa was apparently forced due to a current FBI investigation of the Kauai Planning Department focusing on Costa and his Deputy Imai Aiu. According to an extremely reliable source close to the investigation, the bureau has been focusing on the planning department in recent weeks. This was also confirmed by a second source independent of the first one.

Anyone who watched the planning commission meeting last Tuesday couldn’t help but be convinced that Costa didn’t simply resign- the measured hesitating speeches, the down-looking faces, the references to a “sad day”, the reassurances by Mayor Bernard Carvalho that “no matter what” there would be “good days ahead for Costa”, even comments from commission members referring to “the situation we’re in” and “the steps we’ve taken.” Prior to Costa’s “resignation”, at their October 26 meeting the planning commission held an executive session “to discuss matters pertaining to the Planning Director and, if necessary, to consult with the County’s legal counsel... pertain(ing) to the evaluation of the Planning Director.”

The investigation may be related to the cases upon which we reported recently that were brought before the Kaua`i Board of Ethics (BOE). They involved the practice of department employees of taking outside work that came back to the department for approval. And it wasn’t limited to underlings but extended to Costa himself who was reportedly the subject of a complaint that he did architectural work on projects his department later approved.

Not only is this kind of thing a violation of the local Code of Ethics, if the FBI finds that there was say, a link between their work and the approvals or that the amount of work was not really commensurate with the amount they were paid or even that a kickback scheme existed, indictments could be ahead... not just for the actions themselves but under conspiracy and racketeering laws if it were found to be pervasive in the department.

But aside from the inherent nature of Carvalho’s “ode to cronyism” speech to the commission- in which he pledged to give Costa another job because their “relationship goes back to ‘hanabata’ days” and talked of how “it’s all about the relationships,” his attempt to use his “ex-officio” membership on the planning commission to promote and lobby for Deputy County Attorney Michael Dahilig as interim planning director is a huge ethics violation in and of itself. Ethics and Sunshine watchdog Rob Abrew made it plain in his testimony before the commission. The Kaua`i County Charter makes the mayor an “ex-officio”, non-voting member of every county board and commission.

And as a member of a board or commission- which is the capacity in which Carvalho wrote he was acting in his letter to the commission- one is not permitted to lobby for a vote except during a duly agendaed and called-to-order meeting. To do so beforehand- and to make sure, as Carvalho did, that everyone saw it when it was printed on the front page of the local newspaper - is a blatant violation of HRS 92.

But that isn’t the worst ethics violation inherent in Carvalho’s request. Most remember the case of former Police Commissioner Michael Ching who was accused of using his position on the commission to lobby for the hiring of K.C. Lum as police chief. And although the decision was tainted by a series of manipulations by the BOE and county council to get the result they wanted, that kind of action was found to be a violation of the code of ethics which prohibits the use of one’s position to seek a special favor or benefit for another.

 Ching was forced to resign and Lum’s contract was nullified. How that case differs from the case of Planning Commission “member” Carvalho lobbying for the appointment of Dahilig as interim planning director is anything but apparent.

While details of the FBI investigation are not available just yet, it is known that they have been looking into the possibility of corruption in Kaua`i county government since the end of the Baptiste administration, as revealed by then Councilperson now Prosecutor Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho in an open council session. She and others in county government revealed that they had been grilled- often for hours at a time- by FBI officials who then opened an office on the island for the first time. There’s one more interesting note on Costa’s appointment by Carvalho to the post of deputy director of parks and recreation.

Back in the late 90’s then Mayor Maryanne Kusaka attempted to appoint the deputy director of the planning department, even though the county charter specifically calls for the appointment of a department directors who are then to hire and fire his or her own staff. Then County Attorney Hartwell Blake, in a bizarre opinion, told Kusaka that it was all legal for her to hire the deputy. That outraged another ethics and sunshine activist, Horace Stoessel, who waged a years-long battle to have the opinion reversed. When Baptiste was elected the first action of his new County Attorney, Lani Nakazawa, was to reverse the opinion.

The Nakazawa opinion stands to this day and would ban Carvalho from hiring a deputy director of parks and recreation. Of course the Director of Parks and Recreation is one of Carvalho’s closest cronies, his former campaign director Lenny Rapozo so the actual appointment of Costa may be moot.

But once again using one's position to secure a special favor or benefit for another- something Carvalho didn’t mince words in admitting he was doing in his testimony before the planning commission- is a violation of the county charter, section 20.02(E).


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