Wednesday, October 8, 1997

Trustees’ lawsuit
shows their pettiness

THE Bishop Estate trustees -- who are simultaneously fending off an attorney general's investigation and criticism by a group of Kamehameha students, parents and alumni -- have sunk to a new low. Despite protestations that they are not trying to gag employees or ex-employees, the trustees have filed suit against two former teachers who were laid off two years ago for going to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission with complaints of discrimination.

By their actions, the trustees are sending a very clear message: No one should dare publicly complain about the way they run the schools and matters of the estate, or face their legal wrath.

The estate's lawsuit demands that the two teachers return a total of $60,000 in severance pay and benefits, plus attorneys fees and costs, on the ground that they violated a waiver agreement. According to the document, they were not allowed to initiate any complaint, claim or suit "for any matter related to or arising out of" their employment at Kamehameha. The pair had sued the estate for discrimination in June after receiving a "right to sue" letter from the EEOC.

The teachers' attorney, Elizabeth Jubin Fujiwara, says the waiver agreement doesn't apply because the discrimination complaints stem from the handling of applications for other positions at Kamehameha, and didn't directly challenge the controversial 1995 layoffs or program cuts.

This seems reasonable. If not, the teachers would be waiving too broad a base of employment rights. For example, imagine not being able to sue for sexual harassment or, in this case, discrimination on the part of a supervisor.

The statement by Bishop Estate spokeswoman Elisa Yadao -- that the waiver was not designed to stifle criticism or complaints -- is laughable. The trustees are quick to defend their money but slow to cooperate with the attorney general's investigation into possible wrongdoing on their part.

Bishop Estate Archive

Don't tread on funding

PROPOSED expenditures for fighting the brown tree snake is a favorite item cited by the uninformed as an example of federal "pork." But as President Clinton continues to use his new line-item veto power to excise portions of legislation, no one suggests anymore that efforts to combat the lethal pest be stopped. Washington appears finally to have become educated about the seriousness of this menace.

For the first time, funding for the state's campaign against the brown tree snake was included in the president's budget instead of being added by Congress at the instigation of Hawaii's congressional delegation. That means President Clinton's signature is assured for the $1.6 million approved by Senate and House conferees for control of the snake and to prevent its introduction to the islands. That is double last year's amount and nearly triple the amount for previous years.

Senator Inouye has defended the funding for years and calls the brown tree snake "a major threat to the biodiversity of the Pacific region and other areas at risk." The snake has devastated Guam's bird populations and attacked several humans, especially young children. More than 30 of the snakes have been found in the Northern Marianas in the past decade, and a few have been spotted in Hawaii.

Expenditures to combat the snake have received considerable media attention in recent years but have survived ridicule by those who failed to appreciate its danger. Persistance in educating people about the importance of the issue can be directed at keeping the snake out of Hawaii.

A retailer's delight

WHERE U.S. News & World Report sees "economic purgatory," a major mainland shopping mall developer envisions opportunity. Those are the seemingly mixed signals being thrust at Hawaii residents simultaneously. However, economic troubles that have beset Hawaii in recent years have been gentlest on the state's retail industry, the only bright spot in the local economy.

Retail sales in the islands have grown every year over the past decade, from $9.24 billion in 1986 to $16.10 billion last year, and the saturation point still hasn't been reached. Hawaii's ratio of 9.3 square feet of shopping-center retail space per resident compares with a national average of 12.6 square feet per person in large urban areas.

No wonder that Mills Corp., a national developer of megamalls and community retail centers, has its eyes fixed on Kapolei, the area targeted for growth on Oahu in the near future. The Arlington, Va.-based company plans an initial phase of 200 stores and entertainment outlets operating on 600,000 square feet near the new Consolidated Amusement Co. movie complex.

The first phase of what is being called Kapolei Mills is envisioned as about two-thirds the size of the Waikele retail center and half the size of Pearlridge. If Mills decides after a six-to-eighth-month review to go ahead with its plans, as expected, the center will open in mid-1999. Beyond employment generated by construction, the shopping center could provide up to 2,500 full-time jobs.

Mills' tentative decision to enter the retail market at Kapolei makes the state's business climate no less tax-heavy, bureaucratic and oppressive, but not necessarily the "economic wipeout" that U.S. News & World Report claims.

While development of the Kapolei Mills project would be a boost to the economy, a broad revival will require more effort by government and the community. Hawaii is far from being business-friendly.

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