Wednesday, March 4, 1998

Proposed revamping of
city-county is timely

MAYOR Harris' plan to reorganize the city-county government has won initially favorable comment from the people who are often his most severe critics -- the members of the City Council. Budget Chairman John Felix noted that Harris' proposals had been under consideration by the Council for some time. In other words, the Council wants some of the credit. That reception contrasts with the cool one accorded Governor Cayetano's reorganization plans for the state in the Legislature.

The mayor's observation that organizations have to change to meet changing conditions is certainly correct. The city's dire financial situation is forcing the effort to make government more efficient. Harris contends that cutting the number of departments and agencies from 25 to 14 will help erase a projected $75 million budget shortfall. He previous announced elimination of 335 city jobs -- 185 through layoffs and 150 by attrition. He also proposes a $30 million cut to the department budgets.

One change of historical interest would combine the Board of Water Supply with the Department of Wastewater Management -- which is only four years old -- and refuse, solid waste, recycling, stream and storm-water cleaning functions from the Department of Public Works into a new Department of Environmental Services. The semi-autonomous water board was created decades ago to remove the operation from politics because of corruption in the old city water department.

Reorganizations can be helpful if they eliminate duplication of services and operations that are no longer needed. But they can create problems of their own if the new systems are not well conceived and important functions are neglected.

It can't be assumed that the proposed changes are all for the better. The Council pledges to scrutinize the mayor's proposals thoroughly with this in mind, as it should. And there will be another hurdle: Some of the changes will require voter approval for Charter amendments.


Response to Lindsey

THE president of Kamehameha Schools, Michael Chun, has rekindled the controversy over the Bishop Estate trustees by issuing a rebuttal to criticism of the schools' effectiveness made by trustee Lokelani Lindsey. Designated lead trustee for administration of the schools, Lindsey reached the conclusion that the schools were not achieving their mission under Chun and, critics say, resorted to "micromanagement," in effect taking over administration from the president. The resulting outcry from parents of students, alumni and faculty began the series of events that resulted in the current investigation of the trustees by the attorney general's office.

Chun responded to Lindsey's charges with a 195-page rebuttal submitted to the Bishop Estate board, which was summarized in the Star-Bulletin this week, calling the education received by Kamehameha Schools students "of the highest caliber." In a sense it was a defense of his record as president of the institution in the face of Lindsey's criticism.

Among other indicators, Chun cited improvement in student scores on the Scholastic Assessment Test and the College Outcome Measures Program, and increases in the number of Kamehameha students named semi-finalists in the National Merit Scholarship Program. He reported the proportion of students going to college immediately after graduation has increased from 54 percent in 1981 to 74 percent in 1996.

Chun also defended the Kamehameha Schools' outreach programs, which the trustees abolished in 1995 when they decided to build campuses on the neighbor islands. Lindsey had charged that the out-reach programs were ineffective, and the board agreed to eliminate them.

The president's report represents compelling evidence that Lindsey's conclusions about the schools were erroneous and were probably intended to justify her intervention. Her efforts to correct nonexistent problems have created chaos and badly damaged morale. She has, in short, been a disaster and should be removed by the court before she can do any more damage.

Bishop Estate Archive

Campaign spending

CAMPAIGN spending reform has stalled again in the Senate with the failure of advocates to muster the votes to end a Republican filibuster. Democrats vowed to raise the issue in the mid-term elections to show, as Rep. Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., the House minority leader, put it, "which party is really for campaign reform and which party is not." But the issue is not likely to have a major impact on the election outcomes, as the public seems largely indifferent.

Moreover, the main legislative vehicle for reform, the bill sponsored by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Russell Feingold, D-Wis., appears to have problems with the First Amendment guarantee of free speech. The bill would ban the use of "soft money" -- large donations to political parties -- and restrict issue advocacy messages by independent groups. But the proposal to prohibit the use of a candidate's name in issue advocacy within 60 days of an election could violate freedom of speech.

If the First Amendment means anything, it guarantees the right to speak out on public issues without government restraint. The possibility that such speaking out may affect an election does not justify a restriction of that right. Such a cure would be worse than the disease.

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