Facing a political hailstorm in response to naming himself the powerful Chairman of Maui’s County Council through an illegally rigged secret pre-election, Mike White yesterday issued a statement on the Council’s public website defending his actions.
White’s response doubles down on his dishonesty. He is now using the taxpayer funded website to both deflect public attention away from about the core focus of the legal charges that may result in his impeachment, while at the same time deceiving the public about legal approval that he says, without documentation to substantiate it, that County Counsel provided him with to cover his misdeeds.
Meanwhile, new attention is being focused on White’s shocking “Christmas week massacre.” Three days before Christmas, with no notice or even the proper authority to act, White terminated the many years of unblemished service of three of the four senior staffers who comprise Maui County’s County services office.
In a scathing article exposing the firings titled, “Maui County Council Chair Mike White declares war on the Office of Council Services,” Maui Time reported that it had attained White’s two page memo justifying the sudden terminations, and found White’s reasons to be, “both vague and disingenuous.”
Critics, including veteran activist Mark Sheehan, believe that the firings of the administrative staffers, two of whom are attorneys, was liklely related to their refusal to endorse or provide an opinion condoning White’s pre-election rigging of the Council positions of Chair, Vice Chair and Committee heads.
Sheehan has begun an impeachment action that may result in the removal from office of both Mike White and Bob Carroll, the council Member who White illegally traded a rigged advance vote with, in return for the reward of the Vice Chair position and another Committee Chair role.
Sheehan and others are calling for Maui’s citizens to show up on January 2 in Maui county’s hearing room at 2 p.m.) and speak out during public comment about the urgent need for Council members to uphold the County Charter. After the pledge of allegiance and listening to public testimony, the very first order of business of the new two year term of the Council is a resolution essentially confirming White’s seven week old rigged pre-election to become council Chair.
As I reported here a few days ago, the Maui County Charter (section 3.5 here) states that the vote for the Council Chair must be determined during a public election by all new Council members on January 2.
On November 11, a full seven weeks before the legally mandated election for chair, vice chair and committee heads, Mike White circumvented county law by announcing, in this press release on the Council’s website, that he would “continue to serve as chair of the Maui County Council and Robert Carroll will serve as vice-chair during the 2017-2019 Council term, which begins January 2.”
In his response to election rigging charges, White today wrote on the Council website: “Neither they nor I have done anything illegal, unethical or out of the ordinary for the process of informally organizing the council prior to the formal vote that takes place on January 2nd.”
White’s characterization of his formal November 11 announcement on the Maui County Council’s public website about who was to be the next County Chair as “informally organizing” was a desperate distortion of the what had happened.
A resolution to certify a predetermined outcome, especially one publicly announced seven weeks in advance by the very person being named the new Chair, is not by any objective legal assessment an “election.”
Another resolution scheduled for Monday’s important meeting names White’s allies on the Council as chairs of all of the county’s most powerful positions, cutting out the voice of two popular Council members who received far more votes on November 8 than either Mike White, or any of the allies he is naming to head the most powerful committees in the Council.
White orchestrated his power coup immediately after the election by gathering four votes from other Council members and offering political bribes to those who promised to support him. Like the identity of his corporate backers, Mike White’s backroom power grab left no fingerprints; no written record of what was said, or promised, to whom.
Anthony Pignatro, one of Maui’s leading investigative reporters, wrote in this scathing Maui Time critique on December 30, “White’s thirst for power remains unquenched. Indeed, the agenda for the Council’s upcoming Jan. 2 meeting–the first that will include newly elected Councilmembers Alika Atay, Kelly King and Yuki Lei Sugimura–shows that he’s already crowned himself Chair for another two years.”
In naming himself chairman seven weeks before the County’s legally mandated Council Chair election, White’s rigged pre-election have provided the main grounds for Sheehan’s impeachment charges. He may also be in violation of Section 10-4.1.a of the County charter, which prohibits the promise or acceptance of political appointments in exchange for votes. Such political bribes may be grounds for both removal from office, and up to one year imprisonment, under Section 13-10 of the County Charter .
If White’s illegal power grab is successful, then Maui’s County Council will not even be consulted about the single most important decision that it will make during the next two years: who will be their agenda-setting, resource-allocating, Committee head naming Chair.
As the top vote getter, Council Member Elle Cochran, who received more than 60% of all votes (31,968) cast compared to Mike White’s 48% (about 25,769), would be a logical democratic choice for next year’s Council Chair. So would Don Guzman, whose winning of 58% of the vote (30,762), and his current vice chair role, would also make his Council election to chair a more reasonable choice than extending Mike White’s term for another two years. Especially in light of White’s clear violation of the County Charter.
Instead, both Cochran and Guzman, the only two Council Members elected in Maui County to receive more than 50% of the popular vote, are being frozen out of Committee assignments through Carroll’s attempted power grab.
Whether or not a Council majority emerges that is committed to transparency and the rule of law may depend upon the activism of Maui’s citizens and their willingness to show up and speak out on January 2, as many supporters of reducing pesticides from Monsanto’s GMO test farms, affordable housing, citizen water rights, and protecting the islands natural resources are likely to do.
The only alternative for the Council to avoid beginning its new term harshly divided and under the cloud of illegality would be for Mike White to show real leadership by renouncing his previous actions as misguided, and allowing for an open discussion among a united Council that leads to the actual public election on January 2 that the County Charter mandates.
“The good old boy network,” Sheehan said, “has always been able to conduct business in the name of the corporations, treating Maui like some sort of banana republic. But the chicanery that worked in the past will no longer be tolerated because tens of thousands of citizens just voted for candidates who listen to the public.”
“I am optimistic because I think that an enraged, informed and activated citizenry will join me in showing up, standing up and speaking up.”
Relevant portions of Maui’s County Charter
Section 3-5. Procedure; Meetings; Rules and Journal; Voting.
1. The council shall meet in the council room at the county building for its organization at two o’clock p.m. on the second day of January following its election, or on the following Monday if the second day be a Saturday or Sunday, at which time it shall elect one of its members as chair and presiding officer of the council. Until such time as the chair shall be elected, the mayor shall preside at such meeting, provided that the mayor shall not have a vote. The council shall also elect a vice-chair who shall act as the presiding officer in the event of the chair’s absence or disability
Section 10-4. Prohibitions. 1. No officer or employee of the county shall: a. Solicit, accept or receive any gift; directly or indirectly, whether in the form of money, service, loan, travel, entertainment, hospitality, thing or promise, or in any other form, under circumstances in which it can reasonably be inferred that the gift is intended to influence the officer or employee in the performance of the officer’s or employee’s official duties or is intended as a reward for any official action on the officer’s or employee’s part.
Section 13-10. Penalties. The council shall, by ordinance, provide for the punishment of violations of any provisions of this charter and may provide for punishment of violations of ordinances and rules having the force and effect of law, but no penalty shall exceed the amount of $1,000.00, or one (1) year’s imprisonment, or both.