Carroll Cox


POSTED: Friday, June 19, 2009

Carroll Cox is a tireless watchdog, putting in countless hours combing through government documents, attending public meetings and following up on tips from whistleblowers to expose wrongdoing.

Last week he was busy in Leeward Oahu, shooting photographs and video of tons of construction concrete dumped in Mailiili Stream, home to the endangered Hawaiian stilt and other rare birds. Cox was alerted to the dumping by city workers who he said were told to dump the debris and keep quiet. His video ended up on the local news, exposure that caused the city to stop the practice and prompted city, state and federal investigations.

The approach is vintage Cox, who through his nonprofit Envirowatch Inc. is plugged into a community network that alerts him to potential misconduct, environmental and otherwise.

Accessibility aids his work — he's reachable through his Web sites http://www.carrollcox.com and envirowatch.org and a Sunday morning radio show on KWAI — but what really drives him is the personal knowledge that a government without oversight is capable of terrible things.

The 56-year-old Mililani resident grew up in the Mississippi Delta during the Jim Crow era, and the overpowering injustice of those days motivates him still, to question authority, stand up for the little guy and preserve the Hawaiian environment he has cherished since moving to Oahu in 1989.

Question: You're involved in so many issues. How would you describe yourself?

Answer: Just as a caring citizen, protecting people's freedoms and justice, and protecting the environment ...

Q: What are some of your current issues?

A: The illegal dumping, of course. ... And we're still working (to stop) the imported shark fins. It is still occurring here in Honolulu, even though we have a law banning it. .... And we're very concerned about the government abusing its authority and limiting public access, and by access that could mean access to land, beaches, boat ramps, or access to government records, meetings, that sort of thing.

Q: How do you spend your day?

A: Going to government agencies and getting public documents, and doing field work, photographing evidence ... working with people who want to expose wrongdoing but are afraid.

Q: What strategy works best, in terms of lobbying for change?

A: Going to the legislators has proven fruitless over the 15 years I've been doing this, so I try to take it to the public. There's an informal network of agencies, businesses, people who are willing to talk, willing to blow the whistle, without becoming too involved. They want to solve a problem, but they don't want to be an activist.

Q: How difficult is it to get government documents?

A: What has occurred in the past two or three years especially is ... that they might be willing to give you the documents, but there's going to be a high price attached. ... The attorney general was wanting to charge me $669 for documents relating to the Waimanalo Gulch Landfill ... and there are always delays. The Office of Information Practices is understaffed.

Q: You've been critical of the Marines' closure of Bellows' campground to the public. Why, when the military said it was to prevent environmental damage?

A: How that was presented to the public was shibai, a ruse ... They claim it was because they are concerned about environmental damage (caused by the public), when ... what could be more destructive than having hydrofoil boats rush up on the shoreline, or sinking offshore? ... This is a well-oiled machine when it comes to public relations. And I wish someone would pause and ask “;what are we missing here?”;

Q: So what are we missing?

A: Maybe that (area residents) oppose more development (of the military recreational area) and blocking public access is a way for the military to say “;we're in control here.”; ... The important thing is that instead of shrinking public access to recreational areas, they should be opening more up, with greater supervision and control and management.

Q: What worries you most?

A: That the people have lost control of the government, of the bureaucracy. ... Take the environmental laws, for example. We have all these good environmental laws (through the Department of Health and Department of Land and Natural Resources) but you have the whole system being undermined at the Department of Planning and Permitting. They can do things that will render state law unenforceable. That's where we're losing the environmental management.

Q: You confront a lot of powerful people and agencies. Do you ever get discouraged?

A: No, it's the opposite. Every day I feel encouraged and I hate when the nighttime comes because there was unfinished business. I am always anxious to get back out there.