A Pattern Of Ignoring The Law

Larry Price
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Wednesday - July 09, 2008
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Hawaii governmental officials seem to have a problem with adhering to accepted policies, procedures and laws of the state.

In the last year, Herman Frazier, the former UH-Manoa athletic director, disregarded the accepted policy of notifying UH coaches of the intention of renewing their personal contracts at least six months before the contracts’ expiration date. This was followed up by stipulating in an e-mail that former coach June Jones could renege on his contract if he got a better deal, and Jones walked off owing UH $400,000. For bungling the policy, Frazier was fired for his inattention to detail, but was rewarded with a lucrative severance deal. They did the same thing with former UH president Evan Dobelle.

Just when the taxpayers thought maybe, just maybe, this was a mismanagement disease confined to the University of Hawaii, the state negotiated a very important union contract with the all-powerful Hawaii State Teachers’ Association (HSTA), including a phrase calling for “reasonable suspicion and random drug and alcohol testing procedures applicable to all Bargaining Unit 5 employees that are intended to keep the workplace free from the hazards of the use of alcohol and controlled substances and implement such a plan no later than June 30, 2008.” Well, June 30, 2008 is long gone and all there is to look forward to are several demoralizing lawsuits from the American Civil Liberties Union filed on behalf of the teachers. This all flies in the face of labor law that says in no uncertain terms that negotiated agreements have the weight of law. If the HSTA did not agree with the proposed contract or its language, all it had to do was not ratify it. The ACLU really has nothing to do with reinterpreting the law for the system.

With one botched attempt after another to adhere to the law of the land, our government officials have managed to strike another taxpayer nerve. State Democratic lawmakers are calling on Gov. Linda Lingle to transfer funds to the public hospital network to keep Hawaii Health Systems Corporation afloat in the face of a massive budget deficit. The word is Hawaii Health Systems, which operates Maui Memorial Medical Center and about a dozen other hospitals around the state, is on track to lose $62 million in the fiscal year that began July 1. If no relief is found, according to the Democrats, the health care system will have to close down in November.

Of course, this comes as a shock to taxpayers, because no Democratic lawmaker had said anything about such a serious fiscal situation in our public hospital network during the last legislative session. When the governor was asked about what she was going to do to save Hawaii Health System from sinking in red ink, she was totally surprised and simply said, “I can’t, it’s against the law for me to interfere.”

I thought that was interesting, since this governor always seems to have an appropriate, compassionate response to profound questions from the media. For instance, she came to the aid of the evicted homeless community in their time of need, erecting shelters in Kakaako and on the Leeward Coast.

But the record shows she was absolutely right. The Executive Branch Noninterference Clause in HRS Chapter 323F-11 says, “Notwithstanding any other law to the contrary, the governor and executive branch agencies shall limit their responsibilities to that of review and oversight when the corporation or regional system board received general funds from the state to subsidize the operating budgets of deficit facilities. The governor and executive branch agencies shall not interfere with the systemic change, capacity building, advocacy, budget, personnel, system plan development, or plan implementation activities of the corporation or any regional system board.”

I’m not an expert on what a governor can or can’t do when public taxpayers’ welfare and morale is at stake, but it does seem that lawmakers might consider taking more responsibility for explaining pressing fiscal matters thrust on the public. The thought of not having the medical care Hawaii Health Systems provides throughout the state is staggering.

What’s even more staggering is when a group of lawmakers can, in one press conference, make it sound like it’s all the governor’s fault. It’s just a little ridiculous in the face of the law - a law written by Democratic lawmakers. You’ll probably remember how this same group of lawmakers took the governor to task, saying she broke several laws when she came to the rescue of the homeless community.

And while it’s in vogue to blame a Republican governor for everything that goes wrong, this is a good lesson in how problems fester when the law is ignored by the individuals who write the laws that govern the state.

There’s enough blame in all of these situations I have mentioned to serve as a warning to all elected officials and their appointed agency chiefs that it’s not politically intelligent to treat the public’s confidence with scorn and disregard.

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