Monday, November 30, 2015         


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Carlisle needs to dirty his hands to clean up City Hall's reputation

By Cynthia Oi


When Peter Carlisle traded the prosecutor's slim portfolio of responsibilities for the job of running the big, fat, clumsy city government, he knew there would be great differences.

Still, the magnitude of mayor's duties had to have been breathtaking even for a brisk, savvy fellow, and I imagine that minute to minute, the pile of to-dos grows higher and wider.

Maybe they aren't as high and wide as the heaps of moldy mattresses, broken bookcases, cast-off kitchen appliances and unidentifiable junk accumulated along the streets of Palolo, Moiliili and areas mauka and makai, but substantial nonetheless.

As bad timing would have it, Carlisle was in Washington for a mayor's conference when medical waste and other garbage washed from the city's storm-flooded landfill into the ocean and back again to the shoreline, marring beaches and West Oahu's glowing and growing resort area.

People get irritable if their leaders aren't on the spot when something bad happens, but Carlisle was largely spared nasty attacks except from the usual pack of whiners who would complain if he liked his eggs fried instead of poached.

Carlisle's deputies handled the new administration's first public-works crisis as well as could be expected. Short of cutting his trip, donning shorts and gloves and wading into the water to snag syringes himself, there was little he could do.

That said, the image of a new mayor getting his hands dirty and helping to clear the mess while directing operations would have sent a strong message to city residents who have long felt that their leaders aren't in sync with them.

An artificial dignity of office was the hallmark of previous prideful mayors who spent more of their efforts throwing and fending off brickbats than trying to resolve the city's problems rationally.

Carlisle can't be blamed for feeling put upon by Ben Cayetano trash-talking his decision to stay on the rail path. Having a former political leader calling a noisy news conference to question motives isn't easy to take, but chiding Cayetano for just being "a bus guy" doesn't lower the garbage-gabbing volume. A discussion of concerns could.

With new management, there was hope that ideas would not be dismissed just because they didn't originate at the top-floor office at City Hall, as had been the case; that there would be collaboration and fresh analysis for solutions rather than relying on old formulas and dusty blueprints.

Carlisle's selection of a dozen people for an advisory committee to choose a new landfill site is fine, but past experience shows that will be a Herculean task, even more so because of the recent fiasco.

Along with picking a site, a resourceful administration would explore ways to reduce the amount of garbage Oahu generates so there will be less to burn and bury, examine failures of the current landfill operation and correct them, increase recycling further than merely collecting beverage containers, and promote composting and reclaiming of construction and commercial wastes.

By breaking the pattern of his predecessors and doing the dirty work involved with running a city efficiently, Carlisle can clean up the bad reputation City Hall has had for far too long.


Cynthia Oi can be reached at

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