Night of the long knives continues: DLNR hit hard

“Instead of handing out candy to developers as Neil Abercrombie did, Ige is giving them the key to the candy store.”

—- David Shapiro

In Ige’s latest move to hand DLNR over to developers, he removed William Tam from his position as DLNR Deputy for Water.  Prior to his tenure at DLNR, Tam was Deputy Attorney General and played a major role in authoring the water code, which makes him pretty much the expert on it.

Coworkers describe Tam as a “strong advocate for the ethical and legal use of water.”

Granted, Ige isn’t the first governor to let Tam go.  In 1997 Ige’s buddy, Gov. Ben Cayatano fired Tam after he prepared a draft decision in the Waiāhole water case restoring water to windward Oahu streams. Both Cayatano and Castle & Cooke were displeased that Tam didn’t side with developers.

Cayatano was accused of firing Tam in retribution for standing up for Public Trust interest in water. While the Supreme Court found there was no definitive proof, they made a point to rule in their historic Waiāhole decision that

“it is safe to say that the conduct of the public officials in this case did nothing to improve public confidence in government and the administration of justice in this state.”

It is also safe to say that Ige’s recent actions in purging successful agency leaders who follow the law instead of bending over for developers and utilities has done nothing to improve public confidence in his government.

The ousters of Gill (DOH), Aila, Souki, Tam (DLNR) and Mina Morita (PUC) are inspiring statements such as:

“It took two years for Gov. Abercrombie to lose my trust.  Ige’s managed to do it in less than two months”

Bad enough Ige is purging all those who believe in the rule of law (and know the law) but within the same short time frame, Ige appointed a developer lobbyist to head DLNR and Chair the Water Commission (Carleton Ching), another developer lobbyist to be the DLNR first deputy,  hired a Pacific Resource Partnership lobbyist (Cindy McMillan) as his Director of Communications, said he is open to the elimination of the LUC.

What is this love affair with developer lobbyists? Surely Ige is not so naive to mistake a glib tongue with actual experience and management ability?

Gov Ige’s current pick for DLNR Chair, Carleton Ching, was on the Cooke & Castle side against Tam/DLNR on the Waiāhole case.  (I’m sensing a trend here in Ige’s hirings and firings.)

But back to Ige’s latest poor decision.

Compounding Tam’s sins in developer eyes, he schooled Alexander & Baldwin’s East Maui Irrigation (EMI) on kuleana water rights in Keanae.  In 1997 about the time Tam was writing the draft Waiāhole decision, the Maui Taro farmers begged DLNR to stop EMI from diverting most of the streamwater saying their crops were dying.  In response to their pleas, one of the EMI executives (possibly water resource manager Garrett Hew) is reputed to have replied, “Not one more drop of water.”

Tam then corrected EMI’s misunderstanding of the water code and the primacy of kuleana water rights.  Apparently neither Cayatano nor Ige tolerate DLNR employees who actually know and follow the laws protecting our natural resources.

Now here’s a coincidence – or not.  East Maui steam flows are back on the Water Commission’s contested case docket.  And the Commission recently handed down an order that EMI let more water back into those very same streams that Tam defended in 1997.  Although Tam is not a voting member of the Water Commission, he does set the priorities and agendas.  And once again, the Hanabusa-Cayatano-Ige hui fires him!

Congratulations Governor Ige.  You’ve successfully taken out the entire executive team at DLNR: chair William Aila, first deputy, Jesse Souki and now deputy for water William Tam.  As one observer asked,

“Gov Ige, why did you even do that?  Nothing was broken!”

DLNR’s mission is far more difficult now than in years past.  In 2008 the enforcement (DOCARE) budget was $1.7 million. The next year it was cut by 2/3rds to $500,000.  Last year it was finally increased to about $1.1 million for the entire state.  In the intervening years coral reefs have been dying, fisheries declining, population and visitors using resources have increased but DOCARE still hasn’t seen its budget restored to 2008 levels.  Yet at a recent meeting with stakeholders, Governor’s nominee Ching suggests he can “move the needle” with “efficiencies”.

They’ve cut and cut until they’ve cut through the bone and severed limbs.  One DLNR employee lamented, “We could have done so much more if we had just been adequately funded.”  At the same time employees point to the incredible strides over the last four years using what they did have and morale was (prior to the purge) at an all time high.

The only “efficiencies” left are those which favor developers – less thorough reviews, skipping reviews, removing knowledgeable staff, etc.

Gov Ige says he wants to run the government like a business.  Every business requires operating capital to stay functional and viable. Ige fancies himself the CEO who runs the state. So where’s DLNR’s operating capital?  The refrain of “efficiency” is empty when an agency has cut everything it can and more.

Or did Ige actually mean he wants to run the government like a business by turning DLNR into a development company?  Because by eliminating the most knowledgeable and dedicated leadership and replacing at least two of the three positions with developer lobbyists, it sure doesn’t look like a resource protection agency any more.

What’s next?  Replacing Bill Tam with a lobbyist from East Maui Irrigation?