An open letter to most of the Maui County Council
December 01, 2005
Honorable Council Members Dain Kane, Danny Mateo, Charmaine Tavares, Bob Carroll, Joseph Pontanilla, Mike Molina and Riki Hokama:
Just wanted to congratulate you guys. You really showed great wisdom and foresight by putting one of Maui Land & Pineapple Company's corporate bigwigs on the new Maui County General Plan Advisory Committee.
For the next two years or so, the committee's 25 members will develop a General Plan for Maui County that should guide all local development for at least a generation. Considering our dwindling water resources, inadequate infrastructure and growing population, the stakes are high.
Which is why it was so important that MLP have a seat at the table. They've got 28,000 undeveloped acres in the county. That's a huge responsibility, and one that requires them to make sure that you public officials keep all zoning, water and infrastructure rules conforming to their wishes.
Look, I'm sure you guys already know this. Campaign finance records show virtually all of you—except for Bob Carroll, but nobody's perfect—have cashed Maui Land & Pine checks at one time or another. (They really seem to like you, Kane—$1,000 in 2004 alone? Nice!)
What were you going to do? Turn on Maui Land &Pine in their hour of need? Of course not. So I can only imagine how awkward it was when Council Members Michelle Anderson and Jo Anne Johnson—two of your own!—began complaining in early November that MLP's boy Warren Suzuki was nothing more than a lobbyist and shill for the company and putting him on the General Plan Advisory Committee brought about at least the appearance of impropriety.
Thank goodness The Maui News ran cover for you. After all, the Cameron family, which formed MLP, owned the paper for 99 years. When the News saw that you and its former master were in trouble, they took the extraordinary step of publishing an actual editorial pushing an actual controversial opinion.
"Maui Land & Pine remains the largest successful corporate entity wholly based on the island of Maui, providing direct employment to some 3,000 people," the News opined on Nov. 22. "While the corporate leadership has changed, Maui Land & Pine still shows it is aware of the linkage between the success of the community in the success of the corporation."
And they weren't hesitant about putting Anderson in her place. "The positive part is that most of the Maui County Council's members understand that an individual [Suzuki] who has worked hard all of his life and succeeded deserves as much of a voice in the affairs of Maui County as any person in the community," read the unsigned editorial. "Fortunately, most council members saw through Anderson's innuendo that someone raised in the islands who has achieved personal success can no longer be trusted to be ethical. Her request to deny or defer Suzuki's appointment was soundly, and deservedly, rejected."
Damn! See how they twisted around her very legitimate argument that you guys were giving special treatment to a company with billions of dollars worth of future projects that would surely fall into the Advisory Committee's sphere of influence? Then they made it sound like she was bashing a local boy who made good. That kind of slick argument isn't easy to do, especially for an editorial page that likes to denounce traffic speeding in all its forms.
Then again, even you had to admit that Anderson had a point: guys like Suzuki have a fiduciary responsibility to their publicly traded companies to maximize shareholder return. MLP could fire Suzuki if he was doing things on the General Plan Advisory Committee that made it even the least bit difficult for his company.
You see, Suzuki—MLP's Senior Vice President in charge of community relations and corporate communications since March, 2004—really is a company lobbyist. And a very political one, at that.
Just before the 2004 elections, MLP broke with long precedent and began circulating county council endorsements. According to one of the mailers, the company chose candidates who "share[d] our vision for Maui's future." Commenting to Maui News reporter Harry Eagar in a Oct. 29, 2004 piece, Suzuki said the company took the extraordinary step "To be sure to be able in the longer term to achieve our vision."
It pretty much goes without saying that the names "Michelle Anderson" and "Jo Anne Johnson" were nowhere to be found on MLP's list of approved council candidates. In fact, Maui Land went out of its way to help challengers to both.
Anyway, nice work. I'm sure Maui Land & Pine won't hesitate to return your generosity in the future. MTW
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