Current Thoughts (Mostly Hawaii)

Being banned never stopped him

IN FEDERAL CASE NO. 1:20-CR-286-RBW, a federal judge approved the plea deal by Mr. Hanalei Aipoalani in which he said he was guilty of embezzling a half-million dollars in federal funds and accepting bribes from clients in the administration of CARES act funding he was awarded.

May be an image of 1 person and smiling
Hanalei Aipoalani
PC: https://www.facebook.com/Hanalei4Hawaii

A deep dive into both the plea deal and the articles that reported on it, a small mention that Mr. Aipoalani was disbarred from participating or being awarded federal monies through grants and contracts were made. It was almost a side issue in most articles, which focused more on the activities that led him to be indicted.

But if you go back and look at the wording on the plea deal, when it came to his disbarment, one will find two things happening.

First is the fact that his actions eight years before the plea deal got him disqualified from being involved in any federal grant or contract program throughout the entire executive branch. According to the document, he “..had previously attempted to divert federal grant funds to his bank account.”

Secondly, although he was disbarred, he not only continued to administer funds through a nonprofit but was still sought after by government officials to administer other grants that came up.

This, above all, is a part of the Hanalei Aipoalani story that should be examined.

AS A PERSON WHO STARTED WORKING ON federal grants when I went to work for the State of Hawai‘i Dept. of Labor in 2008, I find it absurd that anyone of Aipoalani’s background was able to continue to work on federal grants and contracts, for any entity, after he was disbarred in 2013.

The reason why I find it absurd is found in this question “what made him a person that could skirt the rules, get away with what he did and then plead out for what was an outrageous violation of the public trust?” Because I will guarantee you one thing, if it were a lot of other people, including those who are contemporaries of mine in the grant management world we’d be on several blacklists not just for the duration of the suspension, but for all our lives.

But instead of being blacklisted, he “worked the rules” as far as I can see with his actions, to create workarounds to allow him to continue to manage funds, even though his name was no longer on the paper stating he was responsible for it.

Then, after the suspension was done, not only did he go back to work on federal grant and contract funds that he was banned from, but then he was given new opportunities that professional managers were never given a chance to apply for, to work on higher, more critical programs like the distribution of CARES funds through the City and County of Honolulu.

And even with that, Aipoalani chose to try his luck again, this time giving preference to an applicant for a bribe that looked like an employment opportunity. I guess the adage of “if at first, you don’t succeed, try something else” was a life philosophy. But in this case, the “try something else” still involved illegal activities using federal monies.

One reason that I see this happened is that the entity that disbars people like Aipoalani from being involved in distributing funds, invokes implicit and explicit rules that are, inherently, weak.

THE US GENERAL SERVICES ADMINISTRATION is the entity that rules whether someone who is declared a non-responsible contractor from doing any grant or contract work whatsoever with the United States government.

Typically, actions related to disbarment or suspension take place after a tip is called in

File:United States government General Services Administration license plate 2015.jpg
The GSA does more than oversee federal facilities and property, it also got an enforcement arm to bar people found to have broken the trust with the federal government from participating in financial items like grants and contracts.
PC: “File:United States government General Services Administration license plate 2015.jpg” by User:Mattes is licensed under CC BY 2.

.

But sometimes this can happen if, upon regular monitoring by a federal manager overseeing the funds, sees something fishy going on. Of course, due diligence takes place and an investigation is both instigated and concluded before any judgment comes down.

In Aipoalani’s case, according to the court filing, he was found guilty of doing funny stuff with AmeriCares funding and was immediately disbarred.

Now, this is where the weakness comes into play. While disbarred, the name of the person is circulated throughout the executive branches of government – everything from the Dept. of Labor to the corporation that oversees AmeriCorps. However, that action only lasts “Usually three years in length”

So in three years, your record is clean and you can go back in again. If your connected, which I suspect Aipoalani was with the powers that be here in Hawai‘i, it reverts to business as usual as if nothing happened.

What should have happened is that his name is known to all, and if someone was to give him a second chance in managing the taxpayer’s money, they should have kept a close eye on him. Once again, if this were just about anyone else, that oversight would go without saying.

Instead, he was invited back in like an old friend it seems, and with new friends, was able to attach himself to other newer projects. And this is where the weakness of the implicit rules, applies. Those being “this is Hawaii”.

ACCOUNTABILITY is one of those practices whose application is highly dependent on the person it’s being applied to. In the case of Aipoalani, accountability of past actions seems to have been overruled by what one person said to me that Aipoalani was a “nice guy, smart.”

Well, smart guys are both adept at being able to handle episodes of accountability and being able to sidestep being called out in it during his decade-long term overseeing federal grant and contract funds.

Why is that? If one were to say that “it’s the way Hawaii works”, you’d be tapping into a cultural norm that has pervasively protected the scofflaw. Meanwhile, it lets good people who want to do a good job for Hawaii die on the recruitment vine all because someone says “that person is not our kind.”

As events with the federal grand jury, though, start to heat up again with the Kealoha case coming back around, along with these new cases like Aipoalani’s, perhaps the time has come where accountability will come back into some sort of style, at least for a little while. God knows our state could use a strong shot of it especially as we exit the pandemic saga, and see about what is going on in this state post-COVID.

We can only hope.

Thanks, but no thanks

Since it is Good Friday 2021, during a pandemic, it’s probably the best of all times to talk about the new tale of Kings Cathedral and Chapel Church in Kahului Maui and the discovery that it’s a site of a super spreader event.

It is also a good time to share an observation about how much the government is now willing to even try to enforce the rules.

Here is the tale. Back on March 7, the State Dept. of Health went to the leaders of Kings Cathedral that it had detected a cluster. In the same meeting, it was reported that they were recommended to shut down face-to-face services, go virtual (online) until the wave subsides.

Even when the faithful are called out in masse to heed the government’s warnings, King’s Cathedral decided to just do their own thing and thus thumbing its finger at pandemic rules. The end is near – at least for the rules maybe is what will be preached on Easter services.
PC: Hawaii State Dept. of Health weekly COVID cluster report 4-1-2021

Instead of heeding the advice, King’s kept their face-to-face operations going, and scheduled events including a youth conference in the middle of March.

Now you would have thought that by now, Maui County would have heard enough from the community and the Dept. of Health that the church was not heeding the advice given, and that the word would have come down to “step up enforcement” of the emergency rules.

But instead, the county did nothing.

The county didn’t make real efforts as what some would think to make the suggestion more like a dictum. After all, other counties and the State of Hawaii seemed to have no problem whatsoever in enforcing pandemic emergency rules to the point where if you put one foot into a county park in Honolulu, you were cited with a misdemeanor and told to show up at court.

So we move to this week, wherein the weekly cluster report by the Dept. of Health, named Kings as a cluster event. That immediately led the Mayor of Maui, Michael Victorino to again suggest in his style that the church immediately cancel its Easter Services, go to virtual services and wait for things to calm down before resuming services.

Even the Governor of Hawaii, David Ige, jumped on the message and said that he felt that everyone in the state should think about attending Easter services virtually to keep the counts down.

So you’d think that King’s would “get the message” and be a good neighbor and just do what the authorities are “strongly suggesting”…

…Nope.

Instead, Kings pushed back, and hard, on the suggestion to shut down. They said that they are an essential service and are allowed to hold services as they see fit within guidelines (masks, six-foot, etc.). To their benefit, they did compromise a little and canceled their Easter egg hunt event at the church.

But for the rest of it, they said to Maui County, and the state “thanks for your advice but we will do our thing.” So, they are moving ahead with Easter Service.

Now one would think by now that the county and the state would have had enough of this rebelliousness and make the extraordinary order to shut the church down. I was fully anticipating it after the cluster report came out naming them and their immediate response to it, saying thanks but no thanks.

So here is where the tale goes into a “wow, they did that?” theme. Instead of bringing the hammer down, which many who read this blog and share their thoughts with me, think that should have been done, Maui County instead invited the representatives of the church to the Mayor’s office to make their case known.

King’s Cathedral Campus in Kahului, Maui.
PC: Kings Cathedral website at https://kingscathedral.com/our-story/

What? And then the Mayor’s office “compromises” as the article said, that the county would allow Kings to use the War Memorial Stadium for its services for Easter as an alternative?

What is going on here? Why all of the sudden is the government willing to be much more amiable to a church that has broken some pandemic emergency rule and is causing a health issue because of it? Because knowing Hawaii and its government, I suspect that the same enforcement rules and its punishments, that was first enacted back last year have not changed one iota.

This is where the personal blogger observation comes in.

Take away the vaccination rollout and the previous loosening of restrictions and you may be seeing where a government entity is finally telling everyone that it is throwing in the towel on pandemic rules enforcement.

Frankly, I would not blame them, being that enforcement at this point is like trying to play an advanced game of whack a mole. Include in the spread of vaccinations and the goal of getting enough people to take the shot to have “herd immunity”, and the drive to enforce these rules seems to be a lot less, approaching dying at some point.

Now it is been pointed out to me that this lax enforcement would not happen in any other County. I was told by a friend “Would (Kauai Mayor Derek) Kawaakami let this happen? He’d shut it down! Would (Honolulu Mayor Rick) Blangiardi do it? No, the same! As well as Mitch Roth (Mayor of Hawaii County)”.

I counter that with this observation, just like how the Governor is watching what the Mayor of Maui is doing with this, so are all the other mayors of the other counties. If they see that one mayor and county is not coming down with the hammer on these things, it simply demonstrates that, perhaps, the enforcement gig is up.

Furthermore, others are watching this too and taking notes. Those entities include every single other religious entity in this state, and just about every other company in the state that does just about anything – from weddings to catering food for potlucks – if they see that enforcement is now spongy soft than rock hard on pandemic orders, they may start to take more liberties in their operations.

The final analysis suggests that we may soon start to see a larger unraveling of the pandemic rules, even though they might still be on the books and, perhaps, enforceable if there is enough desire to do so. What the government should maybe do to prevent it from looking like a toothless tiger when it comes to enforcing rules is to roll out an “unraveling plan”. This would allow people and entities to know “the rules are still in place, but we can see us rescinding them on XXX date. So please continue to abide by the rules, but know we are about done with them”

I am sure that will be a better way to get everyone to keep to the rules than arbitrarily choosing which ones to enforce, and not.

Just sayin.

They never wanted to hear from us

In the “Hawaii” section of the Star-Advertiser on Saturday, March 13, an article came up that asked a very important question. That question was “Should Oahu’s Tiered Opening Plan Receive a Public Hearing?”

In other words, should the people get a say as to how or what gets closed or opened as we go through the 12th month of this COVID saga? It was a question I believe many people in Hawai‘i have longed to ask.

All of Our Grievances Are Connected
A hearing on COVID 19 issues would not be a one-subject hearing, people would demand that everything be put on the table. That is probably the reason why we haven’t had a hearing on things in Hawaii.
PC: “All of Our Grievances Are Connected” by cool revolution is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

While it might be nice to have the people have, maybe, a say as to how their government has been dealing with this saga, the article revealed that, more or less, the people have and will continue to have very little say as to how things proceed forward.

In other words, no hearings.

But this story bypassed a series of discussions that happened late last year that may have allowed public hearings to happen. We have to go back to around October when Oahu was reopening (again) after being shut down (again) due to COVID cases in September.

At the time, tens of thousands of individuals were being cited for lockdown violations. These violations were a blanket misdemeanor, with an imposed fine and possible jail time. The only way to get this taken care of is to attend a court hearing and plead your case. In most instances, these violations were thrown out. Judges saw that people, by and large, were not overtly violating the laws for an infraction on rules that seemed to be confusing upon implementation, and ham-handed in being imposed.

When asked if there can be any relaxation of the rules, the Governor said that the Legislature is the only body that can change the law. Provided he was interested in seeing the law changed, but in the end, he tossed the issue to the Legislature.

To change a law like this in the legislature, what needs to be done after the session starts is for a bill to be introduced. The bill would be assigned to committees, heard on the floors of both houses – the Senate and House – and then when it goes through final reading and passed, it would be sent up to the governor for it to be signed into an act.

The key to this process is that of the public hearing that has to be held on bills in committee. Even if it was assigned to one committee for the sake of time, that bill would still need to be heard and testified by the public.

And there is where the bright idea of changing the law died.

Complain Box
While political leaders might say they are “listening” like how Mayor Rick Blangiardi of Honolulu told the Star-Advertiser, it feels more like you put your complaints on paper, and put it into the box never to be heard from again. Especially during COVID.
PC: “Complain Box” by Wootang01 is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Knowing full well that any public hearing on the matter would turn that hearing into an elongated version of the Seinfeld episode on the “Airing of Grievances” during Festivus, the discussion about changing the law seemed to cease as fast as it started.

So, no hearings. No ability for the people, again, to say what Frank Costanza said to start the airing: “The tradition of Festivus begins with the airing of grievances. I got a lot of problems with you people! And now you’re gonna hear about it!”

Maybe it would be better to have a session where people air their grievances, to get the issues out in the open in a much more public forum. The risk our government leaders are imposing on themselves could lead, at its logical conclusion, a real question of this government’s legitimacy in ruling over the residents of Hawai‘i.

Don’t think that is possible? I refer you to the ongoing issues between the state and anti-Thirty Meter Telescope advocates. That discussion has also gone in the direction of questioning government legitimacy.

The fact that government leaders are either ignoring the idea of having a public hearing on any of this or maybe trying to kick the can on it down to a future administration to deal with, is not good policy. Have the hearing, hear everyone out, and then as a bonus, level with everyone as to a way forward.

That is good policy.

Read past entries of Stan Fichtman and PoliticsHawaii.com!

What am I listening to?

These are the Podcasters that I am listening to, try them out!

Tim Pool (on YouTube)

Pod Save America (on YouTube)

Sargon of Akkad - Carl Benjamin (on YouTube)

Who am I reading/getting news from

I am very choosy as to where I get my news from, here are some dependable sources I refer to when reading up on topics

The Atlantic

CNBC

Civil Beat (Hawaii on-line newspaper)

Honolulu Star Advertiser (mostly paywalled, but you get free headlines)

Beat of Hawaii (Tourism based news source from Kauai)

Twitter Feed

Here are my current thoughts of things going on.

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