The Civil Beat Editorial Board comments briefly each Monday on multiple matters that caught our attention in the previous week’s news.

SEX ED: A PONO DECISION. The Hawaii Board of Education on Tuesday finally did what it should have done ages ago — make sex education a mandatory part of school curriculum rather than giving schools the option of offering it or not.

As Civil Beat’s Jessica Terrell reported, the board voted 5-1 to make the change, with only Board Chairman Don Horner voting in opposition.

State Rep. Bob McDermott, whose vocal opposition to the school system’s “Pono Choices” sexual health curriculum has needlessly fueled community discord on this matter, predictably called the decision “a travesty.” But in the board’s near-unanimous stand for the policy change, it showed it’s had enough of McDermott’s grandstanding and is ready to move forward in the best interests of Hawaii’s keiki.

Representative Bob McDermott during conference committee House Finance/Senate Ways and Means. 23 april 2015. photograph by Cory Lum/Civil Beat

State Rep. Bob McDermott

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Whether a school chooses to offer Pono Choices or one of the other half-dozen sexual education curricula, all instruction will emphasize abstinence as the most effective way to avoid sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy. All curricula will provide age-appropriate material, which, for older students, will include information on contraceptives.

Parents will retain the right to opt out of the instruction, and schools will be required to make information about the curriculum available on their website and to further share that information directly with parents.

Fearmongers such as McDermott will no doubt continue to spread misinformation about sexual education and what it represents, but we are confident that the vast majority of parents will make the right choice in helping their children to learn essential information about their bodies, how to keep themselves healthy and how to avoid unwanted pregnancies.

The school system has a busy summer ahead of it in working to implement this policy change for the 2015-16 school year. We applaud the board for making a courageous decision that will help prevent unfortunate consequences for young people that too often are the result of ignorance.

KENOI FAVORITISM? A new chapter was revealed last week in the ongoing saga of Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi’s ethical challenges in the form of another ethics complaint, this one alleging favoritism in his campaign manager being appointed director of the county Office of Aging.

Kimo Alameda is reportedly earning $110,000 and leading a staff of 12. Big Island resident Lanric Hyland, who filed the complaint, alleges Alameda doesn’t have the supervisory experience that the position required and called the hire the result of political favoritism.

Kenoi claims he wasn’t involved in the hire and called the process impartial. But the fact that Alameda was brought on at the top of a pay range spanning $63,228 to $110,988 begs obvious questions about how and why critical decisions were made about this position.

Hawaii Mayor Billy Kenoi

Hawaii Mayor Billy Kenoi

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Kenoi’s high-profile ethics case from earlier this year remains unresolved. Readers will recall that the mayor repeatedly used his official credit card to pay for tens of thousands of dollars in personal expenses— including outings to “hostess bars,” surfboards and travel — and only repaid most of them after West Hawaii Today published a series of stories detailing Kenoi’s card abuse. That matter is still under investigation by the state Attorney General, and the Hawaii County Board of Ethics hasn’t yet acted on the matter.

Our position remains unchanged from early April, when we called for Kenoi’s resignation. The new ethics charge further darkens the picture — at best, showing Kenoi to be insensitive to the need to avoid even appearances of impropriety, and at worst, potentially documenting the sort of cronyism that undermines faith in government.

Kenoi has given no indication that he will do right by the people of the Big Island and step aside. Attorney General Doug Chin needs to swiftly conclude his investigation and take steps to restore the integrity of the Hawaii County Office of the Mayor with actions that make clear no public official is above the law.

Clarification: An earlier version of this article attributed the initial reporting on the Billy Kenoi affair to the Hawaii Tribune-Herald. In fact, while the Tribune-Herald has published many stories, Nancy Cook Lauer at West Hawaii Today is the journalist who broke the story and has done much of the reporting on Kenoi and his situation. 

KIPPEN — GOING, GOING … When former Gov. Neil Abercrombie four years ago created the position of state coordinator on homelessness, there were high hopes that the commitment would make a real difference in one of Hawaii’s most persistent and difficult challenges.

Colin Kippen has held that position for three years. The former head of the National Indian Education Association in Washington, D.C., and deputy administrator of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, he has shown leadership and resolve in the role, but has struggled to demonstrate progress on the one metric that continues to define this problem: The number of homeless people on our streets, which rose by 10 percent over the past year, according to new state headcount figures released Thursday.

Some 7,620 homeless people were counted when the statewide census was taken in January. That is more than the entire population of Molokai.

If making a difference on this critical issue is a priority for Gov. David Ige, you wouldn’t be able to tell by the way he’s dealt with Kippen. In November, he asked Kippen to stay on until the end of the year. In late December, he extended Kippen’s employment through June 30.

In an Editorial Board discussion with Civil Beat this spring, Kippen said he and the governor had had virtually no interaction since Ige took office last December, and that doesn’t appear to have changed. With only 10 days left on his employment agreement, “Kippen hasn’t heard whether he should bother showing up for work July 1,” Civil Beat’s Rui Kaneya reported on Thursday.

Colin Kippen.  editorial board. 13 march 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat

State homeless coordinator Colin Kippen

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

On Friday, Ige told Civil Beat he didn’t know what the plan was for the homeless coordinator position. He said that he hasn’t had an opportunity to speak with Department of Human Services Director Rachel Wong — Kippen’s boss — regarding Kippen. Ige said he has given Wong and other directors a lot of latitude to evaluate positions and assemble their teams.

It’s rather cavalier treatment for a position charged with leading the Hawaii Interagency Council on Homelessness, an advisory group created by the Legislature with responsibilities for creating a 10-year statewide plan for dealing with homelessness.

As the City of Honolulu struggles to bring much-needed temporary shelter online and the Big Island experiences an explosion in its homeless population — up 43 percent over the past year to 1,241 — there has perhaps never been a more important time for leadership from a state homelessness coordinator.

Whether we’ll have one in 10 days is, unfortunately, anyone’s guess.

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