Capitol View

By Richard Borreca

Wednesday, November 13, 1996

Two bureaucrats who
tell it like it is

WHEN we say "bureaucrat" it is rarely an accolade. Bureaucrats are the ones waiting for you at the end of a long line in some grimy state or county office to say you were in the wrong line.

The public thinks of bureaucrats as always having a "no" for the public and an obsequious "yes" for superiors, no matter how foolish the idea. We think bureaucrats have never met a study they didn't embrace and couldn't care less what or how well they performed as long as all the lines on the forms were filled out completely.

So before another crisis comes and goes without being filled out in triplicate, let us praise two longtime bureaucrats who dared to publicly say NO to their bosses, who dared to suggest there was more than one way to solve a problem.

First up is Bruce Anderson, deputy director of the state Health Department, a valuable enough fellow that he worked for two governors and one mayor and is still sought after.

Now he warns about plans to spend $12 million or more to restore the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium. This is risky business.

Restoring the dilapidated 100-meter pool is a favorite cause of newspaper editorial writers and a pet project of the historic preservation buffs everywhere. Veterans groups, legislators, our congressional delegation and our mayor all think it would be splendid to restore this white elephant.

Enter Anderson, who points out the water inside it is filthy, it has outlived its useful life as a swimming pool and with its dark bottom is a public safety hazard.

"Boils and ear infections were a problem in the old pool, and they will be a problem in any new salt-water pool because it is practically impossible to disinfect salt water," he wrote.

What about the bottom? Current law requires lifeguards to be able to see the pool's bottom at all times. What organization has the money to continually filter the Pacific Ocean?

Anderson bravely suggests that unless there is a compromise the entire area in the middle of Waikiki will continue to rot and fester.

"With some creative, forward thinking, the Memorial can be reconstructed to better serve the needs of the living while honoring the dead." he said.

While Anderson points to the future, here's another bureaucrat who had the courage to point out government's past errors.

When the problems with the six-year-delayed Kalihi Kai Elementary School library became the focus of news stories, the state's Board of Education did a little tub thumping and demanded to know what happened.

IT was Alfred Suga, assistant school superintendent, who was able to call the project what it was: "pork."

In this state project, an old, abandoned building was to be turned into a library. After six years and cost overruns twice the originally budgeted $400,000, the library has yet to open.

The project came from a legislator and was kept alive by a bureaucracy that couldn't say no.

"The building should have been torn down," Suga said.

"From the beginning, when a simple roofing job developed into a collapsing structure, the scoping was inadequate," he said.

That is how a bureaucrat says the idea is a few pecans short of a pie.

With a few more bureaucrats like Anderson and Suga, there is no limit to the number of pies we could bake.

Richard Borreca reports on Hawaii's politics every Wednesday.
He can be reached by e-mail at

©Copyright 1996, Honolulu Star-Bulletin. All rights reserved.

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