Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa last week issued a memorandum - similar to one last year that he suspended - that directed all county civil service employees and administration directors and staff to halt direct written and verbal communication with Maui County Council members and council staff.
The two directives channel communications through the mayor's office and the managing director's office. In a letter to council Chairwoman Gladys Baisa, the mayor said that the steps "are intended to establish a more formal line of communication between the council and the administration and to enhance intragovernment communication by facilitating the flow of correct information to the council."
Maui County Communications Director Rod Antone said Thursday afternoon: "We want to avoid any future miscommunication."
There have been county projects and actions in the past that both the administration and the council have agreed upon that stalled during the council's vetting process, said Antone. As examples, he noted the disagreements over how the Old Wailuku Post Office was demolished and the appraisals conducted by the administration in the purchase of Launiupoko land. The former example currently is being audited by the county auditor and the latter case led to council votes at the last minute that nearly nixed the purchase.
"In my mind personally, it (the disagreements) seems to have stemmed from a miscommunication," Antone said. "I don't think it matters whose side the miscommunication happens, what matters is taxpayer time and money is wasted on something that could have been cleared up (earlier)."
Antone acknowledged that the directive would have an impact on the speed of daily operations but noted the delays created under the old process.
The memo dated June 18 was addressed to all executive branch employees and Baisa.
The council chairwoman said Thursday afternoon that Council Services staff were meeting to discuss the issue. Her advice to them was to seek advice from Corporation Counsel.
"There are concerns," she said of the memo. "We had something like this a year ago.
. . . We responded, and it was rescinded."
Last July 15, Arakawa released a similar directive and cited similar reasons, though the memo was triggered by the County Council's investigation into the demolition of the Old Wailuku Post Office. The council had authorized an investigation into the use of county funds by the administration to demolish the old federal building that were originally earmarked for its restoration.
On July 16, Council Vice Chairman Robert Carroll wrote a letter to Arakawa, noting that there were legal and practical concerns that may cause unintended consequences if the directives were implemented.
A day later, Arakawa issued a letter temporarily suspending the directive. He noted that Baisa and Office of Council Services staff said their internal processes will be hampered by the directive, which also would "destroy" open communication with the administration.
This current memo says that direct communication pertaining to county business, official or otherwise, is not to occur unless authorized by the mayor or the managing director "to avoid transmitting partial or incorrect information." It also adds that all letters, memos and other written communications should be directed to the Office of the Mayor, with copies to the managing director, for purposes of tracking, distribution and streamlining communication to the departments.
Apparently, the directive already has been felt by at least one council member.
Council Member Don Guzman told The Maui News on Wednesday that he has been unable to communicate with the county parks department regarding the cancellation of artificial turf installation at War Memorial Stadium because of the directive. The council member said that he found out about the cancellation from a soccer coach.
Guzman, who chairs the council's Economic Development, Energy, Agriculture and Recreation Committee, which handles parks department requests, said that if the parks department came to the council with a request for more money for the artificial turf, he would have supported it.
Antone said that the directive will produce a better end result.
"I think the community will see better communication, a better relationship (between the administration and departments with the County Council), a better back and forth discussion because now everyone is getting the same information," he said.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.