If our calculations are correct, you’re reading the 500th issue of Maui Time Weekly. Those 500 issues have been produced over a 12-year span dating back to 1997; during that time, the paper has gone through a lot of growth and change. One thing that hasn’t changed? Our independence.
Being independent isn’t always easy. Often, it means we’re swinging without a safety net. At the same time, it means we can swing pretty hard and pretty high. As a recognized alternative weekly, part of our job is to take aim at Maui’s rich and powerful, to expose corruption and malfeasance and, hopefully, to inform and protect our readers in the process.
Have we ever regretted something we’ve written? Sure. Do we sometimes look back and wish we could change a story? Of course. But in all, we’re pleased with the work we’ve done, even as we’re acutely aware of the work that’s left to do.
As we prepare to launch our next 500 issues—and to keep growing, innovating and embracing cutting-edge technologies, just as we’ve done with pdf and digital formats, podcasting and microblogging—we’d like to pause and look back at a few stories we’re especially proud of. In some cases we were the only ones willing to cover a certain aspect of these stories, or to cover them at all.
Thanks for your support, input, criticism (constructive and otherwise) and for helping us remain a truly independent voice.
FLIPPER BEHIND BARS (vol. 4, issue 7)
The story: In September 2000, the County Council approved a project slated for North Kihei. Dubbed Maui Nui Park, the facility was to include a “lagoon” boat ride, a luau amphitheater, a wedding chapel and educational exhibits on Hawaii-related topics like volcanology. Oh, and giant tanks for four performing “research” dolphins courtesy of the Oahu-based Dolphin Institute. “The dolphins, though less than 100 yards from the ocean, will likely not see, taste or smell it,” wrote Maui Time contributor Cynthia Matzke. “They will be surrounded on three sides by heavily used roadways, in arguably the island’s worst traffic intersection.”
The aftermath: According to Councilmember Jo Anne Johnson, the initial draft of the project had nothing to do with dolphins, which is why the council approved it at first. But after the “dolphinarium” was added to the plan—and an onslaught of public outcry ensued—the county passed an HSD ordinance barring captive display of cetaceans. “Nobody wanted it,” said Johnson in a recent interview. “Nobody supported it.” After the ordinance passed, Johnson said the council got letters from all over the world thanking them for the bold move.
ACCESS DENIED (vol. 4, issue 12)
The story: It’s home to two well-known West side surf spots, but management at the waterfront Puamana condo complex decided to crack down on surfers cutting through the area to access the beach. Contributor Nicole Chipman reported on confrontations between surfers and security guards at the complex, and questioned whether the property owners were honoring state beach access laws. “All of the beaches in the state of Hawaii are public property up to the vegetation line,” she wrote, “though many resorts have planted a vegetation line of their own and thus extended the perimeter of their property.” Puamana even constructed a gate across the complex’s main entry in an attempt to make it clear that outsiders weren’t welcome. “They act like they are afraid,” said surfer Wayne “Wayno” Cochran. “They might as well get barbed wire and gunners to guard their property.”
The aftermath: As contributor (and surfer) Beau Ewan’s Febrary 2008 story, titled “What’s happening to beach access?”, clearly demonstrates, the issue is still very much alive. Ewan mentions getting yelled at by security when he tried to access the spot. However, Ewan wrote, “Paumana PUD (Private Urban Development) is currently listed in the Maui County 2005 Shoreline Access Report’s inventory of public shoreline access points. The only problem is that surfers somehow have to pass through locked gates and harassment from security personnel before making it into the lineup.”
PAY TO PLAY (vol. 9, issue 9)
The story: In August 2005, The Maui News ran a prominent front-page story titled “She Craves a Normal Life” about Iraq War veteran Jessica Lynch. The writer of the piece acknowledged that West Virginia-based Ogden Newspaper Group, which owns The Maui News and many other publications, paid for Lynch’s travel expenses. That this was a bald-faced violation of journalistic ethics may have been lost on Maui’s daily newspaper, but it wasn’t lost on Maui Time editor Anthony Pignataro, who wrote: “Behold: The Maui News is now a travel agency! Who cares that Lynch hasn’t been news for over a year—we’ll fly her out here at our expense and then just write a story about that.” Pignataro went on to quote Maui News publisher Joe Bradley, who said he hoped “that Jessica’s trip will be seen as a tribute to all of those in the military who have served in the Middle East.” Concluded Pignataro: “In other words…Ogden Newspaper Group…paid Lynch to fly to Maui so its papers could then write a big story about her that would generate a lot of publicity about what a great a company it is.” Pignataro’s piece was picked up by prominent journalist and blogger Jim Romenesko.
The aftermath: The prescience of Pignataro’s critique was revealed in March 2006, when Ogden was again accused of pay to play journalism, this time involving a considerably more powerful player. As Pignataro noted in a Coconut Wireless entry: “Ogden helped pay President George W. Bush’s expenses when he visited [West Virginia] to press the flesh and hold one of his town hall meetings.” The story was also noted by a Washington Post media critic, who called the move a “journalistic blunder.”
THE SORDID TALE OF BOB AWANA (vol. 10, issue 51)
The story: In June 2007, Maui Time contributor Greg Mebel chased a story, based on an anonymous tip, involving Gov. Linda Lingle’s Chief of Staff Bob Awana, a mysterious Filipino woman named Jullie Mae and an Indian man named Rajadatta Paktar, who was thrown in a Honolulu jail for alleged blackmail. It was a juicy scoop that no other Hawaii papers seemed to be touching. In the story, Mebel interviewed Charudatta Paktar, the brother of the jailed man, who said Mae was called on to “entertain” Awana and other state officials when they visited the Philippines. Wrote Mebel: “When I asked if this included sexual entertainment, Chardutta said, ‘Yes.’” Mebel also spoke to Awana, who refused to explain why he was the target of a blackmail scheme. “When I asked for a copy of the e-mailed blackmail or letters from Jullie Mae, Awana declined,” wrote Mebel, “saying he’d ‘turned all of that over to the FBI.’”
The aftermath: Less than 24 hours after Mebel contacted Awana, the Honolulu Advertiser ran a front-page story titled “Lingle’s top aide helped FBI sting.” The story didn’t discuss the reason for the alleged extortion or any wrongdoing on Awana’s part. Gov. Lingle called on Awana to resign “immediately” in light of the blackmailing issue and another, unrelated corruption investigation. Then on July 5, 2007, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin picked up the story. Connecting the dots between Mebel’s reporting and the Advertiser story, the Star-Bulletin ran an op-ed calling on the governor “to explain why Awana’s resignation was necessary ‘immediately’ last week but not when, according to Awana, she learned about the allegations more than a year ago.”
A DUI IN THE LC (volume 11, issues 43 & 46)
The story: Even casual readers know that Maui Time keeps tabs on the county Department of Liquor Control in our column, LC Watch. It’s a lonely beat, and our criticisms of the department’s rules and procedures often fall on deaf ears. But LC Watch got concrete results in early 2008. James Viela of Wailuku had just been tapped by Mayor Charmaine Tavares to serve on the Liquor Commission. Viela had previously served on the LC’s Adjudication Board from 2000 to 2004. Digging through the criminal justice database, editor Pignataro discovered that Viela was arrested for DUI in March 2005 and subsequently plead no contest to the charge. Noted Pignataro: “It’s unknown whether the County Council or Mayor Charmaine Tavares knew (or cared) about Viela’s DUI when she nominated him to the Liquor Commission. There is no space on the official application form for prior criminal convictions.”
The aftermath: Two months after starting his five-year term on the commission, Viela resigned. He cited “personal reasons,” though he admitted to Pignataro, “I resigned when your article came out in the paper.” But the case was about more than Viela. As Pignataro pointed out: “[A]nyone applying for a liquor license needs to disclose any and all criminal convictions ‘other than a minor traffic violation,’ but those on the Liquor Commission who approve all new licenses do not.”
NISHIKI GETS A LOAN (vol. 12, issues 22 & 23)
The story: One of the most heated races in the 2008 election was the South Maui County Council scuffle between Wayne Nishiki and Don Couch. The two men traded frequent barbs, with Nishiki painting Couch as too developer-friendly and casting himself as an independent voice with no ties to the island’s big business interests. In a Maui Time interview conducted two weeks before the election, Nishiki told us he hadn’t “taken any money from developers,” adding, “No developer is going to come into my office. I’m sorry, that’s not how I operate.” In the end, Maui Time endorsed Nishiki, and he went on to a narrow win. Then, less than three weeks after the election, new information came to light: according to an ethics form filed months after the deadline, Nishiki accepted a $100,000 personal loan from developer Everett Dowling while out of office. We broke the story, and the following week rescinded our endorsement, writing: “It should never come as a surprise when a politician is shown to be less than honest. But we believed what Nishiki told us—and more important, what he told the people of Maui. He let us all down.”
The aftermath: The loan revelation set off a firestorm of criticism, especially from Couch supporters, and caused Nishiki supporters to circle the wagons. The county Board of Ethics launched (and recently concluded) an investigation into the issue. The contents of the board’s findings are sealed—but Nishiki remains in office and will almost certainly serve out his term. The real test of his reputation will come if he decides to seek reelection.
SINKING THE SUPERFERRY (vol. 12, issue 38)
The story: The Hawaii Superferry was a frequent target of criticism in these pages, both because of the dubious circumstances surrounding its launch and serious questions about its operation and financial viability. The issue came to a head in March, when Rob Parsons wrote a feature titled “Superferry Progress Report.” Parsons gave the vessel grades in a number of areas, including: environmental safety/protection (“D”); government integrity/accountability (“D”); and, wise use of taxpayer’s money (“F”). The story concluded: “The infusion of large amounts of capital to bolster HSF by CEO John Lehman…has led many to believe he is less interested in seeing HSF succeed financially and more interested in doing a test run for the prototype Joint High Speed Vessel program. It is widely believed that Lehman’s investments in shipbuilding could be the principal reason for his involvement in promoting HSF, as an awarded Pentagon contract to construct the aluminum-hulled JHSV fast-catamarans could be worth billions of dollars.” The story was picked up and disseminated by blogs from Oahu to San Francisco.
The aftermath: On March 16, less than a week after Parsons’s story appeared, the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that Act 2—the special law passed by the legislature and signed by Gov. Lingle that allowed the Superferry to operate without a completed Environmental Impact Statement—was unconstitutional. The ruling shut HSF down, despite protests from Lingle and other officials (and a number of Hawaii residents who supported the ferry). New developments in April bolstered Parsons’s assertion that HSF was put in the water with ulterior motives. As editor Jacob Shafer noted in an April 7 Coconut Wireless entry: “[I]n November the Defense Department awarded a contract to build high-speed military transport ships to Austral USA, the company behind…the Superferry!…[CEO Tom] Fargo offered a telling ‘no comment.’ Which brings us to this juicy nugget from the Press-Register of Mobile, Alabama, new home of the Alakai: ‘Industry analyst Tim Colton said the military is a natural fit for the ferries, now adorned with colorful swimming manta rays. ‘Any day now, they’ll be painted gray,’ Colton said.’”
SOMETHING IN THE WIND (vol. 2, issue 3)
We’ve been focusing on political issues, but that’s not all Maui Time is about. Especially in the early days, a huge part of the paper was dedicated to covering the local entertainment and water sports scenes. In the summer of 1998, contributor Dave Sweedler predicted the popularity of kite boarding when most media outlets didn’t even know it was a sport: “For years, people have migrated to the Valley Isle to chalk out new ways to test the boundaries between man, wind and water,” wrote Sweedler. “This is the [dawn] of kite surfing.” Sweedler acknowledged that old school surfers would resist the new sport, just as they resisted wind surfing and other newfangled trends (and just as some today decry stand-up paddle boarding). But, in the end, he wrote, “We are soon to see a new wind blowing.” MTW