Kauai County

Kauai Council disagrees
with mayor over utility sale

The Council refuses to oppose the sale,
but it also refuses to back it

By Anthony Sommer

LIHUE >> The Kauai County Council voted unanimously Thursday night to "agree to disagree" with Mayor Maryanne Kusaka in her opposition to the proposed sale of Kauai Electric Co. to a locally formed cooperative.

That means they will not be signing onto a position paper filed by the mayor asking the Public Utilities Commission to prohibit the sale.

But at the same time, the Council -- at the end of a 12-hour meeting, most of which was devoted to the Kauai Electric sale -- also refused to pass a resolution telling the PUC it endorses the sale to the co-op.

Several members said they want some concessions from the Kauai Island Utility Co-op before supporting it before the PUC.

Most were vague in what they want, but Council Chairman Ron Kouchi was clear when he placed a price tag on his vote of support: He wants the cooperative, a nonprofit corporation, to agree to abide by the state Sunshine Law regarding open meetings and public records. The co-op is not a government entity and is exempt from public-access laws.

In its three-year history, the co-op's board of directors never has conducted an open meeting, made public an agenda or disclosed a board vote on any issue.

Under the co-op's bylaws, the co-op's original board of directors would be replaced by a board elected by the co-op's members if the PUC approves the sale.

The majority of the current board members believe the co-op is a business and that the only public access should be at its annual meeting, at which all members can participate.

Since there never has been a utility cooperative in Hawaii, there are no provisions covering them in Hawaii law.

Board Chairman Gregg Gardiner told the Council the issue of public meetings is the only issue on which the board has been deeply divided. He said it has decided to leave the issue of it adopting the state Sunshine Law up to the elected board.

But he said the board would conduct a meeting before next week's Council meeting to discuss a compromise, such as perhaps voluntarily opening its meetings while still leaving the long-range policy to be decided by the elected board.

The co-op is proposing to buy Kauai Electric for $215 million from Citizens Communication Corp. of Stamford, Conn., which has owned the utility since 1968.

The PUC issued a preliminary decision last week strongly indicating it is inclined to approve the sale.

Two years ago, the PUC rejected a similar deal between the co-op and Citizens for $275 million, ruling the price was too high.

County of Kauai

E-mail to City Desk


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