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Arakawa Issues Gag Order to County Workers

Mayor cites goal to avoid “miscommunication.”

July 10, 2014
Susan Halas - Contributing Writer , Maui Weekly

Mayor Alan Arakawa issued a gag order to all county employees, including civil service and appointed staff, barring them from communicating directly with members of the County Council and their staff.

In a June 18 memorandum, Arakawa cited his desire to "establish a more formal line of communication" by redirecting all written and verbal exchanges of information from the county to the council though his office, with a goal toward avoiding "miscommunication."

The one-page memo comes only weeks before the primary in which the Maui mayor is running for re-election to a third term, facing what many think is only token opposition. Arakawa watchers point out this is not his first attempt to control the flow of information between the two branches of local government, but this "directive" has a far more imperial tone and revives comments sometimes made about his management style.

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Alan Arakawa Running for a third term
On June 18, Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa issued a gag order preventing communication between all county workers and the County Council and its staff. The directive cited Arakawa’s desire to “establish a more formal line of communication.” But the section of the county code cited by his office seems to say just the reverse—that communication from department heads addressed to the council must go through the mayor’s office. It is silent on communication that originates with the council and are addressed to other county workers, and certainly as it is written, it does not forbid the council from making inquiries of county employees, nor give the mayor authority to prevent such action.

Specifically, the directive states it "shall apply to Civil Service County employees, appointed staff and others employed by the Administration with regard to any and all verbal and written communications with employees of the County Council:

"There shall be no direct communications on matter pertaining to County business official or otherwise, between administrative staff and employees of the council including staff of the Office of Council Services unless authorized by the Mayor or the Managing Director, to avoid transmitting partial or incorrect information; and,

"All letters, memos and other written communications should be directed to the Office of the Mayor with copies to the Managing Director, for purposes of tracking, distribution and streamlined communication to the Departments."

So unusual is the attempt to wall off an entire workforce from their duly elected legislative counterpart that it made the Associated Press wire on June 29, and had heads shaking and tongues wagging.

Asked to comment on the situation, Rod Antone, communications director for the county, replied in a Tuesday, July 1, email, sketching in the background:

"The council and the administration have been at odds in the past," he wrote, "over projects that both branches of government actually support--specifically, the Kalana O Maui County expansion project and the Launiupoko land purchase.

"In our opinion, miscommunication was to blame for both council and administration not being on the same page and arguing about technicalities," he continued. "These arguments cost tax payers time and money, and to avoid wasting more of either, the mayor has asked that if council members have questions or are looking for information, that we be able to review the request.

"In other words, they can still ask departments for information, but before they get answers, we would like a chance to review the response. We believe this will allow them to receive more accurate information that will at least lower the chance of meaningless arguments. The council wants to move county business forward and so do we. We believe this directive should result in a better relationship with the council and becoming a more effective county government overall for the community," he concluded.

Antone suggested reading Maui County Code 2.60.010 "Communications" saying, "You will see that the mayor is enforcing something that is already on the books."

This seems an odd portion of the charter to cite, because it does not apply to communications from the council to the administration. It applies to communication from the administration to the council--exactly the reverse. The relevant section, 2.60.010, of the code reads, "All communications to the council from department heads shall be made through the mayor."

The code is silent on council communications to the administration, and certainly does not authorize a blanket gag forbidding county workers from writing or talking with the council and its staff. Further, it also only refers to communications by department heads and not to all workers, appointed staff and other employed by the administration.

Council Chair Gladys Baisa declined to comment on the June 18 memo. A representative of Office of Council Services said that the matter was being studied.

Mayor's opponent sees it differently

Tamara Paltin, a county worker who is running against Arakawa in the upcoming election, was not so reticent.

"Fear of miscommunication is not a reason to halt the flow of communication," said Paltin. "The mayor appoints at least 22 department heads and deputies, the majority of whom make over $100,000 annually. Put together, taxpayers pay these appointees over $2.5 million.

"If the mayor can't trust his staff and appointees to communicate complete and correct information, he should appoint people who can, or conduct training aimed at avoiding transmitting partial or incorrect information rather than slowing down county government by bottlenecking information. It is unacceptable that Councilmember Don Guzman, for example, would have to learn about a parks project being cancelled from a soccer coach. It erodes public faith in local government."

In fact, Pal-tin had quite a bit to say on Arakawa's management style in general.

"Traditional top-down hierarchical management styles of the 19th century," Paltin said, "are based on control. However, in the 21st century, we need management that is built for speed, innovation and collaboration. Management today must be willing to involve frontline county workers and residents as true partners in shaping the direction of our county's future in order to move forward. We have the technology that makes mass collaboration possible, practical and pervasive. If we do not taking advantage of these opportunities, we will not be able to move forward, and we will not be successful as a county."

 
 

 

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