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“Taxes Are the Price We Pay for a Civilized Society.”

*I posted this to my Facebook yesterday for the Federal income tax return deadline, and forgot to put it to my blawg! To busy dealing with my taxes and clients’ transactional issues during this hectic tax period.  Anyway, a little less relevant today, but remember 2015 Hawaii income tax returns or requests for extension are due tomorrow (4/20/16), so still slightly relevant. Cheers and good luck to you! 

I hope your Monday, this final day for submitting your U.S. federal income tax returns (at least without an extension), is not that stressful, but I share this interesting quote with you by one of my favorite U.S. Supreme Court Justices from the past, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. He was a great jurist and in his time was known as the I hope your Monday, this final day for submitting your U.S. federal income tax returns (at least without an extension), is not that stressful, but I share this interesting quote with you by one of my favorite U.S. Supreme Court Justices from the past, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. He was a great jurist and in his time was known as the “Great Dissenter”. I selected this quote, as apparently this quote appears on the IRS building in Washington D.C. So with that, I wish good luck on your taxes, as I do empathize with all of you, especially fellow self-employed small business owners! Anyway, if you are interested, you can find a nice short biographical history for Justice Holmes here: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/supremecourt/capitalism/robes_holmes.html

New Law in the Brief (Sort of): Act 162 and Taxes for Cash-Based Businesses

Hey everyone, long time no see . . . been very busy, but I am grateful for all the business deals that everyone has been doing.  It makes for an optimistic outlook in the economy and that there are a lot of creative people in Hawaii looking to be successful.
Anyway, I am writing this post on Act 162 (SB1197 SD1 HD1) of the 2013 Hawaii Legislative Session because I am wondering did you file your General Excise/Use Tax Returns (more commonly known as GET)?  It was due on July 20th for monthly, quarterly, and semiannual (so all three categories basically).

Further, this Act even though it is so short highlights several key concepts to understanding government, law, and business.  Specifically the following aspects: (1) the concept of “sunset” provisions and how legislation is tied together over the years; (2) how laws are enforced (namely through taxes and penalties); and (3) the applicability of the law to people/businesses who don’t think the law applies (cash-based businesses and the GET in this case).

Let’s get to it!

Act 162: Relating to Tax Administration

Act 162’s measure title doesn’t really help tell you what it does. All it says is “relating to tax administration” so I can see how someone may just gloss over the title.  However, the description, which says “Deletes the sunset provisions for the special enforcement section of the department of taxation.” provides no insight either, unless you know what is the special enforcement section of the Department of Taxation.

Sunset Provisions and Repealing Them

Before, I get to the Special Enforcement Section, let’s touch upon the first concept I mentioned, the “sunset provision”.  So many times legislators are not sure about the effectiveness of a proposed law, it might be for a variety of reasons, may be the problem will go away, there is not enough money to fund the project, etc . . . so they put in a sunset provision, that is the law will repeal itself upon a certain date in the future (i.e. it will cease becoming law upon that date).  If you are a contract buff, consider it like a specified termination date in the agreement.

In Act 162, this is how the language looks like that references the sunset provision:

SECTION 1.  Act 134, Session Laws of Hawaii 2009, is amended by amending section 13 to read as follows:

“SECTION 13.  This Act shall take effect upon its approval; provided that:

(1)  The amendments made to section 235-20.5, Hawaii Revised Statutes, by this Act shall not be repealed when section 235-20.5, Hawaii Revised Statutes, is reenacted on January 1, 2011, pursuant to section 8 of Act 206, Session Laws of Hawaii 2007; and

(2)  Sections 231-F, 231-J, 231-K, 231-L, 231-M, 231-N, 231-O, and 231-P, Hawaii Revised Statutes, in section 2 of this Act shall take effect on July 1, 2009[; and

(3)  This Act shall be repealed on June 30, 2014, and section 235-20.5, Hawaii Revised Statutes, shall be reenacted in the form in which it read on the day prior to the effective date of section 8 of Act 206, Session Laws of Hawaii 2007; provided further that sections 231-1, 237-9, and 237-12(b), Hawaii Revised Statutes, shall be reenacted in the form in which they read on the day prior to the effective date of this Act].”

Notice the lined-through section?  That is the sunset provision from the original law that was passed, Act 134 from session 2009, which now Act 162 (2013) is amending.   So by strike-through, the goal of Act 162 is to delete that sunset provision from the Act 134 (2009) law.  Since no new date was put in, rather they deleted the whole section, this would mean that now Act 134 (2009) is permanent.

Click here to see the bill in its entirety.  Notice, that Act 162 DELETES the sunset provision.

Special Enforcement Section and Tying it Together

However, deleting the sunset provision of the previously enacted bill has no meaning to you unless you know what that bill did.  So notice that in Act 162 (2013) it tells you exactly that piece of information.  Specifically, that “Act 134, Session Laws of Hawaii 2009, is amended”, so if you look up Act 134 (2009) you would discover that the purpose of that act earlier was to:

The purpose of this Act is to provide the department of taxation with the necessary resources and tools to target high-risk, cash-based transactions to shore up confidence in Hawaii’s tax system for those that do comply.  Importantly, the legislature intends that the enforcement resources provided focus on the civil collection and enforcement nature of Hawaii’s tax laws.  In an effort to demonstrate the targets of this undertaking, this Act defines “cash-based business” for enforcement purposes, and the department of taxation is directed to focus on such businesses.  At the same time, education is equally important as enforcement.  Therefore, this Act requires the department of taxation to reach out to industry groups, specific demographics in the economy, and practitioners to educate taxpayers on their tax responsibilities.

While this is only describes the purpose, an in-depth look at the provisions of the bill would show that the Special Enforcement Section was created in the Department of Taxation and that its powers included investigation, enforcement, etc . . . for violations of the tax code, specifically targeting “cash-based businesses”.

Now what businesses primarily deal in cash?  You would probably think those vendors who are at farmers markets, craft and fairs, and swap meets.  You would be right because the since the creation of the Special Enforcement Section they have investigated numerous cash-based vendors and found that when asked for their tax license, they had none.  You can see some of the specifics from the Section’s reports by clicking the following for: (1)  July 1, 2009 through June 30, 2010 and (2) July 1, 2011 through June 30, 2012.

What you should take away from all of this is that if you are a cash-based business, you should realize that the deletion of the sunset provision effects you because the Special Enforcement Section of the Department of Taxation has been made permanent.  So it will continue to investigate and enforce penalties against you, if you are in violation of the law. Primarily focusing on the fact that if you do not have a tax license to conduct business you will pay a penalty.

What’s the Penalty for Not Having a Tax License?

Act 134 (2009) amended Hawaii Revised Statute 237-9 by inserting the following language:

Any person who receives gross income or gross proceeds of sales or value of products from engaging in business in the State and who fails to obtain a license or receives gross income or gross proceeds of sales or value of products from engaging in business in the State without a license required under this section may be fined not more than $500; provided that a cash-based business may be fined not less than $500 and not more than $2,000, as determined by the director or the director’s designee.  The penalty under this subsection shall be in addition to any other penalty provided under law and may be waived or canceled upon a showing of good cause.

So as a cash-based business can you afford penalties like these? 

But the Law Doesn’t Apply to Me! I only do this Occasionally . . . every Saturday, Sunday and Every Other Wednesday

I know, I can hear it right now, as I have with many clients, “X law does not apply to my Y situation” . . . well, to be honest your focus is perhaps cooking delicious food for people or creating a unique piece of art, but your craft is not the practice of the law (lawyers) or the application/enforcement of the law (government agents), so how can you be absolutely sure the law does not apply to you?

What you should realize that the words and definitions for the tax code are broad, so long as you are “engaged in business” you are subject to the tax.  HRS 237-2 defines:

“Business” as used in this chapter, includes all activities (personal, professional, or corporate), engaged in or caused to be engaged in with the object of gain or economic benefit either direct or indirect, but does not include casual sales.

I know you see it, it says “does not include casual sales” and you feel that you only show up on Saturdays to do your sales, well we look again at HRS 237-1 and find that “causal sales” means an “occasional or isolated sale or transaction” involving:

     (1)  Tangible personal property by a person who is not required to be licensed under this chapter, or

(2)  Tangible personal property which is not ordinarily sold in the business of a person who is regularly engaged in business.

Yeah, it is hard to imagine the Department of Taxation’s Special Enforcement Section buying into “occasional or isolated” when you show up for your slotted vendor stall on a regular section, and you are selling the same goods that you did the week before.  However, everyone’s facts and situation is different and it might be something worth looking into, but the point of this post is to generate some thought for you the reader the following:

  1. sunset provisions are temporary, but by deleting them it makes the law permanent;
  2. that a new law in one year you feel might not apply to you may actually have huge ramifications for your business because it is tied to a prior one that has continuously effected you; and
  3. your business is your business, but the applicability of the law is for enforcers and practitioners, however they can help you make better risk management decisions based on these laws. 

At the end of the day consider seeking professional (law, tax, and accounting) help to make determinations for your cash-based business.   As you’d rather be paying taxes on time rather than paying penalties and taxes for trying to avoid a law that you did not think applied to you because you were just taking cash or viewed yourself as “casual”.  It might be the time to register your LLC or corporation, update your accounting practices, or make better financial decisions in light of your taxes.

Mahalo for staying through this lengthy post!

P.S.

Need instructions on filing your returns? Click on this link to be taken to the State of Hawaii’s Department of Taxation’s General Instructions.

Considering getting a LLC or Corporation because your cash-based business needs it?  Review my downloadable one-sheet.  If you are a more visual person take a look at this infographic.

LEGAL DISCLAIMER: The information provided here is meant to be general information, and should not be taken as specific legal advice that pertains to any particular situation.  The reader should not base any decisions on the information here to act or refrain from acting regarding a legal problem.  If you believe you have a legal problem please seek legal advice from a licensed attorney in the relevant jurisdiction.

Draw the Law Delayed for Law Week!


Hey everyone, I know you were all looking forward to talking about licensing agreements for this week’s Draw the Law, a follow-up to my discussion on marketing or reseller agreements, but you are just going to have to wait one more week.  As an Oahu Director of Hawaii’s Young Lawyers Division I am working on Law Week this week (as well as following the wrap-up of the local state Legislature).  So my sketches of the concept have to wait one more week.  Pardon the delay.

Law Week with KHON2 Action Line (April 30th – May 4th)

Instead please, if you live in Hawaii, take advantage of our Law Week program put on by many legal professionals here in the State.  Although you may have missed Monday’s KHON2’s Action Line on Consumer Protection, Bankruptcy, and Foreclosure law you can still call in for the following topics:

  1. Tuesday, Family Law (Divorce, Custody, and Child Support);
  2. Wednesday, Estate Planning and Elder Care Law
  3. Thursday, Employment Law and Wrongful Termination
  4. Friday, Property Law (Landlord/Tenant)

Please call the studio between the hours of 11:00 am – 1:00 pm (Hawaii time) at the following number: 808-591-0222.  For further information, click this link.

Free Legal Clinics (May 5th)

If you miss out on our legal phone lines we will be bringing volunteer paralegals and attorneys to a neighborhood near you this Saturday.  We have volunteer attorneys taking your questions and providing free legal information.  There are no solicitation fees and everything discussed is in confidence.

The main goal is help the public gain access to justice and highlight this year’s theme of Law Week, No Courts, No Justice No Freedom.  We are bringing the professionals of the court to you, so you can be better informed of your legal rights. Please see below for a list of locations, all clinics will be open from 10:00 am – 2:00 p.m. this Saturday, May 5th.

Mahalo and see you around!

The clinic locations are as follows:

Oahu Legal Clinic Locations:

  • Don Quijote – Kaheka
  • Don Quijote – Pearl City
  • Don Quijote – Waipahu
  • Haleiwa Historical Gym (Haleiwa)
  • Sack N Save (Nanakuli)
  • Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center (Waianae)
  • Windward Mall Shopping Center (Windward)
  • Filipino Festival (Kapiolani Park)
  • Kapolei Marketplace (Kapolei)

Neighbor Island Locations:

  • • Maui Mall (Maui)
  • • Puainako Town Ctr. (Hilo)

Social Media and the Law, as well as other Fun Legal Info

Well, it’s amazing isn’t it? The month of January of 2012 is almost done and so much has already happened. Here are some interesting social media and the law news that I found, as well as some other fun pieces to carry you over for the day until tomorrow’s Draw the Law.

Google and Privacy Concerns (this well continue to be an issue for 2012 for all Social Media)

Have you noticed that Goolge is making some major pushes lately?  Well come March 1 the search engine plans on doing a turnabout and begin combining information it collects about the user from various sites/services into a single profile. Definitely a privacy issue brewing, especially when the privacy officer has to issue statements. Click: Google to merge user data across its services – CNN.com You can also read the lengthy notification, which you keep bypassing when you log onto your Google+ page.

GPS = 4th Amendment “Search” as Determined by SCOTUS

For all of you interested in criminal law, like Marcus Landsberg criminal lawyer extraordinaire, notice that the Supreme Court- GPS Tracking Is Illegal Without Warrant. Basically, SCOTUS feels that the use of a GPS Tracking device is a “search” for the purposes of the 4th Amendment, thus cops must get a warrant.

Mutant Toys or Mutant Dolls? Yes, it Matters

This was a great listen if you love comic books and would like to theorize that certain superheroes are not human. Basically, the point of this podcast: Mutant Rights – Radiolab, was showing the importance of the word “doll” versus “toy” – you may not think it means much, but if you are an IP attorney and have an import business getting a cheaper rate for your action figures is a must and it all boils down to if a mutant is a human or not.

Department of Homeland Security Following Facebook Posts

Earlier this month DHS released a document stating it is monitoring social media and news sites. They cited federal law that they have to “provide situational awareness” to federal, state, local and tribal governments. You can read more about this here: DHS watching social media, news sites | Greeley Gazette.

NLRB Finds Certain Arbitration Clauses Violate Labor Laws

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has determined that mandatory arbitration agreements that prevent employees from joining together to pursue employment-related legal claims in any forum, whether in arbitration or in court violate federal labor laws. Check that announcement here: Board finds that certain mandatory arbitration agreements violate federal labor law.

Local Startup and Social Media Infromation

For you startup lovers, don’t forget tomorrow night will be Startup Hawaii kickoff. For more information, check it out here: Startup America Comes to Hawaii | Aloha StartUps. It will be at Bar 35 downtown. Definitely come on down if you started or are going to start a business!

Also check back at Alohastartups.com as I will be writing some future posts talking about Hawaii’s new legal non-profit aimed at helping entrepreneurs and startups, Business Law Corp. (businesslawcorps.org). I hope to get some interviews with the founders soon!

Finally, clear sometime in February as I will be getting down with Social Media and the Law as I will be trying to schedule a talk at The Greenhouse Innovation Hub and will be a panelists at Social Media Club Hawaii’s Creating a social media policy for business – what, how and when? event at Amuse Wine Bar on Feb. 21st. Hope to see you there!

Interesting Updates: Succession Planning, Discussing SOPA, and Podcasting

Well, hopefully you got a chance to read this morning’s Draw the Law. This post is just highlighting some of the more interesting pieces of information that I would like to share with you.

Alohastartups: Succesion Planning and Crowdfunding Posts

Once again, Alohastartups was nice enough to put up my post on Succession Planning. This part 1 of a two part series. Check it out here. If you remember I conducted a co-talk with my friend and 2011 Leadership Institute fellow Scott C. Suzuki, a successful estate planner and elder care lawyer here in Honolulu about the benefits of thinking about your business should you die, become incapacitated, or would like to leave.

If you also recall, I did a piece on crowdfunding, which I found a couple of newer posts that you may find interesting. First of all, Entrepreneur.com has an opinion piece on “Why Crowdfunding is Bad for Business” – do you agree/disagree?  Anyway, whatever your opinion on the matter it appears that the Crowdfunding bill is stuck in the Senate. In fact, it isn’t just stuck, it multiplied, as there are now three bills in the Senate. Want to know more check out good in-depth analysis by following Fizzlaw.com’s link.

The Greenhouse: Innovation Hub Talks SOPA and Helps Me with Podcasts

Speaking of federal legislation, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) (as well as it’s Senate counterpart PROTECT IP Act (PIPA)) continues to make headlines, as Wikipedia now joins the ranks of the growing number of sites that have vowed to blackout in protest of the bill.  Anyway, The Greenhouse: Innovation Hub is definitely living up to its creed of being a “learning lab” as they have set-up a discussion on SOPA and PIPA tonight, starting at 6pm. Click here for details.

In addition, The Greenhouse has worked with me to bring legal podcasts to you busy small business owners and people thinking of starting their own business. While, not as extensive as my talks, these podcasts should give you legal information to think about. Look for those to roll out soon and check back here for more information.

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Last Post of 2011 and Looking Forward to 2012


Aloha Everyone!

Hope you are having an awesome Friday for this last aloha Friday of 2011. I just wanted to take the time, as I close out for the day to wish you all a happy and safe New Year’s Eve and for a start of a good New Year. In addition, I would like to thank all my friends, acquaintances, clients, readers, supporters, and yes even my Twitter followers for making 2011 a good start for me.

Storytelling in 2011 

I appreciate getting to know you all in the various settings that I have and welcome meeting new people and reconnecting with old friends whether it be in social media, IRL networking, or for coffee. Also thank you for allowing me to tell you all my story and journey of an attorney that loves the intersection of law, business, and politics in the realm of small business and startups.

Past Highlights 

I would like to highlight thanks to all of you for the positive feedback regarding this site and my services. In particular, I would like to continue to make this site a place a resource for small businesses and startups navigating transactional and compliance issues. Thus from this 2011 you will continue to see posts series like the following:

Because I care about the Hawaii community and am finding that I meet new people of this great state via social media I will continue to do special write-ups on:

New Features for 2012 

Although like all good growing businesses, their ideas change and grow I will be rolling out new features and ways to get information into struggling business owners’ hands. In fact, I’ll admit that being an attorney who just started going solo there were times I wish there were resources for me, and there were, but I will continue to try to deliver information to the people who want its and need it. I would like to thank various people and organizations that have given me feedback before I talk about my 2012 features.

First the Thank Yous

Thank you to my friends at Off-Menu Catering, all of you give so much support and thoughtful feed back to carry me through continuing to serve small business.

Thank you to The Greenhouse: Innovation Hub and in particular Doc Rock (@docrock) and John Garcia (@johngarcia) for creativity and inspiration, Jill (@swamwine) of SWAM, Danny (@wangchungs) of Wang Chung’s, and Shawn of Small Business Planning Hawaii (@SBPHawaii) for bouncing ideas off of to deliver services and information to small business owners. Melissa Chang (@Melissa808), Jennifer Lieu (@jlieu), and Capsun Poe (@capsun) always guiding lights for social media use.

Mahalo to the Young Lawyers Division, HSBA, and Leadership Institute for providing guidance to an attorney.  To fellow attorneys Wayne J. Chi and Scott C. Suzuki thank you for doing talks with me, some more planned in the future! To William (@alohastartups) of Alohastartups.com, much thanks as you are providing a great resource for startups in Hawaii and I am excited for the plan in 2012. However, I think I still owe you a post from 2011! Thanks to Rechung (@TheBoxJelly) of The Box Jelly for providing a space for legal talks and helping Hawaii coworkers.

Finally, thank you to Marcus Landsberg, a fellow Hawaii attorney that has helped out and set down this path of being a solo practitioner like me and showing that solo does not mean alone.

. . . Back to New Features of 2012

Ok, enough with the thank yous and let me get to the new features that you readers can look forward to from me in 2012 for this site in particular:

  • PODCASTS – that’s right Hawaii small business owners, no worries if you cannot make it down to one of my talks! I will be providing portions of them for you to watch in your store or at home.
  • One-sheets – simple pdfs talking about one particular issue for you to download, print, and share.
  • Newsletter – I am not sure what the frequency will be, but definitely watch your e-mail inboxes!
  • REVAMP of blog and website – I will be shifting gears and making sure that I deliver to you content in a more user-friendly style!

That’s it for this year! Have fun and be safe this New Year’s Eve and see you in 2012 (Year of the Dragon!).

-RKH

Leadership Institute – Corporate Hawaii, Part I – Morning Session

For readers, know that that this session in the Leadership Institute series was done by former lawyers (who are now executives) for the benefit of upcoming lawyers, but my hope sharing them is insight to the legal world and some the things said are just in general for leadership and management skills regardless of industry.

What this Session was All About

This leadership session happened over a month ago and was of great interest to me, as all of the panelists included attorneys who had gone over and obtained some sort executive position at a large local corporation. It was very interesting hearing how they made the transition from attorney to corporate executive. For the most part, many of them did NOT plan on it, and many of them thought they would practice law for the rest of their lives. I will be breaking up this write-up into two posts.  Today’s post will cover the morning discussion and the following one will be for the afternoon session.  The morning was a set of panelists that were moderated and the afternoon was a speed dating type of deal.

I will give a list of the panelists, then list the series of questions asked by the moderator, under each question I will select several quotes or paraphrased thoughts that I thought was interesting or poignant to share with you all.  The panelist that provided the quote or thought will be identified through their initials. Remember the underlying theme is leadership, but for this session it seemed directed at the path of experiences toward leadership.

The Panelists and Moderator

So here is the list of the morning panelists, their titles, and companies:

They were moderated by Melissa Pavlicek, President of Hawaii Public Policy Advocates.

The Questions and Quotes

How do you identify yourself? What is the first thing you say?

  • AO – “Once a lawyer, always a lawyer.”
  • CN – stated she is first a banker, but being a lawyer usually quickly follows
  • MR – introduces himself as the CAO
  • CM – hated being a lawyer for the first 10 years (laughter), but by the time he left practice he enjoyed it

How much of where you are today was planned?

  • FK – none of it was planned, it took an intervention from a friend to change her mind for her career path, and things never turn out the way you expect
  • MR – no planning, he was open to anything and his advice to everyone is to take advantage of opportunities, but be prepared when you do
  • AO – as a generation, the Vietnam War colored his, so planning for him was out of the equation – he feels that his generation did not have the luxury of life choices early on due to the war
  • CM – you don’t plan it so much as “create the opportunities for lightning to strike you”

In terms of skills, do you improve what you are given? Or do you try getting new skills?

  • MR – start with values, and you should be true to yourself; in general, some things you have to learn, but you should also focus on your natural talents; “know the landscape” and be ready to adapt – his personal example, was when he came here for the CAO job, he knew was a “guest” and went out of his way to understand an appreciated the local way of doing things

What skills are valuable?

  • [I can’t remember who said this, but here it is anyway]: legal analytical skills were critical beginning, but leadership skills become more important (due to responsibilities) ; thus as a lawyer we tend to micromanage, but as you transit into a leadership/management it is about empowering others to do the tasks
  • AO – since not every lawyer is a complete package, if you build a lawyer firm you try to complete the package and have complimenting attorneys – but you do want listeners, they understand what the client wants to get (objective-based); if you answer a client’s question with legal answers, many times it is not helpful

What about Outside Activities?

  • In general, all of them are active diverse people. I think the main thing to have gotten out of this part of the moderation was to find some clubs, non-profits, or associations and help out. It is good for networking and actually provides a different kind out outlet for your energies.

This is the last one, there is more, but I thought this question would be a good stopping point for this blog (lol): Are lawyers deal killers? How should lawyers handle saying “no” to clients?

  • AO – not a deal killer, but to new attorneys learn a little bit of litigation to figure out alternatives to trial
  • CN – they are more ready to say “no” early on to things, but risk is a part of business; in-house counsel understands the business better  and can help manage risk better
  • FK – as CEO, she aggress it is managing the risk of the company, so when you, as an attorney are being asked for answer, you have to determine what kind of answer is being asked for (i.e. is this it might be right 50% answer, this is mostly right 80%, or we spent all day and night researching this,100% answer); put another way, how much risk is embed in the question; an attorney’s job is to work with the client
  • MR – sometimes you do have to say NO due to risk identification, BUT the attorney then should direct the client with advice and help to reach a decision in light of that response

Anyway, I hope this was interesting I will be following this write-up hopefully within a week to reach the afternoon session panelists and interesting things I learned there. Finally, some great conversations took place during lunch that sparked off some interesting commentary, and I would like to bring that to you all and get your feedback and sentiments on the issue.

So check back soon!

Leadership Institute – We the People, Part II – Civility in Government

Following up on the prior Leadership post, the We the People seminar’s afternoon panel was very interesting. Recall that we had Chief Justice (CJ) Recktenwald, Senator Sam Slom, and former Deputy Chief of Staff, Andrew Aoki with Kirk Caldwell moderating.
I have to admit being a political junkie that I found it interesting having Senator Sam Slom and Andrew Aoki there, as I did not know what to expect. I definitely think that Senator Slom presented the best case for civility (and humor) in government and of course why shouldn’t he? He has the honor of being the lone Republican in the Hawaii Senate, and on the national level is the only one in such a position.

The civility in government subject, with the panelists present, turned on what civility meant in the judiciary, politics/executive, and legislative branches. What follows are some of the quotes that I took with me from that afternoon and my thoughts.

Judiciary

“Lack of civility increases the cost of litigation.” From CJ, and I definitely think he is right because civility means that the modes of communication remain open, as soon as they break down the barriers go up, which we all know from a purely market system causes things to be more expensive.

He followed that quote with, “Lack of civility undermines, fundamentally, the judicial system.” The basic rationale is that citizens watch their attorneys behaving badly and if that is the case what does that say about the system as a whole?

Politics/Executive

Echoing CJ’s tone, Andrew Aoki agreed that in politics that the lack of civility creates a barrier to access politics. Basically, that it turns people off from participating in the process. I think especially here in Hawaii that is the case, we found in the Hanabusa-Djou race, as mainland money poured in, the tone of the message became nasty (by Hawaii standards) and a lot of people felt that did not have to be the case.

Finally, Andrew felt that it is “Easier to run on fear, then hope.” I think that his blanket statement sounds nice, but I found that it sometimes too easy to fall back on. I think with times being very tough it is always easy to want to give people hope, but the reality sometimes is some of the people’s fears are legitimate and credible. The problem is from a top-down perspective you have to weed out all the noise of what is fear-mongering and what needs be addressed. Once again it boils down to communication.

Andrew felt that there was more civility than not here in Hawaii. In fact, that someone managing here needs to deal with passive-aggressive nature tendencies and that you need to learn how to cooperate and be agreeable.

Legislative

Finally, Senator Sam Slom felt that civility is a part of your ethics. He felt that in recent times we have created all these educational programs on corporate, government, medical, etc . . . ethics, but really there is just ethics. It comes down to your core.

Finally, in the legislative arena, lack of civility leads to escalation and tension-building. It was definitely evident you have thread that balance of sticking to your opinion and focus on the issues, but do not burn bridges. He also emphasized respect the people you serve.

I will leave off with he said something that I think applies to anyone trying to deal with people and gain their trust and buy-in:

Do not over promise, but over deliver.

See you next time for the Write-Up on Corporate Hawaii!

Leadership Institute: We the People Write-Up, Part I

This post is really overdue, as former Managing Director and Acting for the City and County of Honolulu, Kirk Caldwell of Ashford and Wriston LLP, did put on a great panel for the Leadership Institute fellows. I just have been swamped with work (lots of people want to start their dream business!).
Anyway, I’ve got a five part series on the Leadership Institute, which this one will start off. This came about because the seminar I had with Corporate Hawaii, sparked off a really interesting discussion that I think I would like to continue, for at least my part, on my blog and in the social media community.

So this is what it will look like:

  1. Part I: Meet the People Write-up, Part I – Homelessness
  2. Part II Meet the People Write-up, Part II – Civility in Government
  3. Part III: Corporate Hawaii Write-Up
  4. Part IV: Corporate Hawaii – Where are the Leaders?
  5. Part V: Managing Diverse Networks Write-Up

As usual I will report on what was discussed at the Leadership Institute seminars and what insights or wisdom that the panelists imparted to the fellows. So with that in mind let’s get to “We the People” write-up.

We the People Write-Up – Homelessness

Kirk Caldwell broke the session into two panels for two different subject matters. The morning session was about leadership and Homelessness in the State, which of course as we got ready for APEC was of concern. He invited Mark Alexander (the State’s Homelessness coordinator), Representative Marcus Oshiro (Chair of the House Finance Committee), and Utu Langsi (Executive Director for H-5).

The afternoon session was about Civility in Government and consisted of panelists, Chief Justice Recktenwald, Senator Sam Slom, and Andrew Aoki former Deputy Chief of Staff to Governor Abercrombie (at the time of this session he had not resigned). Part II will follow-up on this topic.

Homelessness

Kirk started off the conversation by discussing that a democratic government needs to have a balanced population and how this factors into the situation of the “haves” and “have-nots.”

Marcus, as an attorney, as he still volunteers with Legal Aid Society of Hawaii and gives pro bono hours, felt that prosecutors, as attorneys of the government occupy a unique role. He stated that a, “prosecutor’s job is to pursuit justice.” In that vein, they need to use their skill set to be a sort of politician that does social good for the body politic.

In the context of homelessness, that I agree that is partly true, as prosecutors need represent the government, which has a responsibility to both those with homes and without. However, I think once again leadership still depends on the person and how seriously they take the responsibilities that come with their job.

Father Mark Alexander definitely took the approach that leadership needs to take care of the least fortunate, which is probably why he took the position with Abercrombie administration. Here are some of the more interesting quotes he imparted:

  • “We have to a have vision where we want to go.”
  • “Leadership has to tell the story.”
  • “Homelessness is not about metrics, numbers, at the end of the day, but about the brothers and sisters in need.”

I really find that last one kind of poignant. However, I think Mark Alexander, despite the poignancy, displayed a remarkably pragmatic understanding that programs we develop for homelessness cannot be “too comfortable.” For example, some programs would express success in the terms of how much food was served. However, this begged the question is that success? Isn’t the goal to help protect people from falling through the cracks, BUT to help boost them back up so they do not remain homeless. So as a leader in this area you would have to provide help, but motivate people or give them the tools to move forward with their lives.

I think that we all know in leadership positions that if a person gets too comfortable sometimes they lack the motivation to take the next step. Pushing people isn’t a way to be mean, but insures that people develop to their full potential. However, out of all the three panelists I think that Utu Langsi had the most telling example of how leadership affects people on hard times. In his former life he was a criminal and was homeless. It was only through judicial grace and “luck” (I will return to the concept of luck when I get to “Managing Diverse Networks”) that he finds himself now helping other homeless people with his non-profit.

I think he definitely showed that part of the equation of helping people is you have to meet them half way sometimes. To lead does mean communicating and understanding them and offering them help, but the person wants to make a change. He definitely emphasized the need to break cyclic problems by helping and educating younger generations.

Budgeting Care

The panel rounded out with Marcus Oshiro, Chair of Finance, giving some insight into the thought process our legislators go through when dealing with budgetary process. Here are his questions:

  1. How far can we cut government programs and services?
  2. What programs and services are we willing to live without?
  3. Are we willing to pay more for the programs and services we want to keep?
  4. What doe we want Hawaii to look like when the recession ends?

This was against the backdrop of some figures he gave us. These are by no means accurate on my part, as I was rushing to take notes while interacting with the panelists. So take them with a grain of salt.  However, the state’s revenue is comprised of half from the GET tax, a third from personal income tax, and about 2% is derived from corporate, tobacco, and other specialty taxes. Meanwhile, health, human services, and education make up the majority of spending, with higher and education and public safety the next major components of the budget.

So it was a very informative in terms of perspective of those in government and public services when they approach the homelessness issue. Next time I will cover the remainder of “We the People” and take the insights on Civility in Government.

Here are few links if you want more information on homelessness in Hawaii:

Leadership Institute: In Hawaii, Who You are Matters to Us

I got a couple of responses of how interesting the Leadership Institute subject matter was last post, so I decided to impart some other interesting ideas and advice I have learned from my fellowship. So here goes.

I was born and raised on Oahu and it was only until college that I lived away for any significant portion of time away from “the Rock” as it is affectionately known.  However, growing up I quickly learned the odd ritual of asking the following three questions to people I would in Hawaii.  They are as follows, in order:

  1. What highschool did you go to?
  2. What year did you graduate?
  3. Do you know [insert name of person you know that might the person you are questioning]?

I never knew the subtleties of why I did it, but I knew it gave me some comfort and was always a good icebreaker for meeting new local people.  This even followed me as I updated my resume for after law school, as I intended to return home.  I remember the Career Services Office staff looked at me funny, and asked why would I put my highschool on my resume.  My only response is that it mattered when applying for jobs in Hawaii, and I kind of got the look of course it matters only in Hawaii because it is a odd state.  I left it that, and left my highschool on my resume.

Well, during one of the Leadership Institute seminars former Judge Thomas Kaulukukui Jr. explained to me why it is the case.  The basic gist of what I learned from Judge Kaulukukui is that you need to get to know people before you serve them as a leader.  How can you effect change if you have no idea about the people you are dealing with?  So it is in Hawaii, a pre-dominatly Pacific Islander/Asian culture, where we want to know who you are because it matters to us.

Now, this isn’t the “who you know” game where you spend time one-upping the other person.  No, it is the “who you know” as in what is your background (who are you and where do you come from).  Let me explain further using the ritualistic three highschool questions.

  • “What highschool did you go to?” represents the locality question, idenityfing where is the place that you come from and what was your environment.
  • “What year did you graduate?” represents the time component of what generation and what time did you come of age, as this shapes our identity and formation as an adult.
  • “Do you know [insert person that you know, that you think the other person may know]?” attempts to get to know your people, who is your group, who are your friends (your clan, so to speak).

Now, if this seems foreign to people of the continental United States it should be apparent to those who have European ancestry that in medieval times you identified your lineage.  Where do you think fantasy novels like Lord of the Rings and A Game of Thrones came up with “I am so-and-so, son of XYZ.”?  Before, you think I bring out my dorky readings for no reason, be aware that our legal system evolved from medieval England.  They used have trial by combat, all that has happened is we replaced the suits of armor with suits and ties, and the swords with word-filled motions.

So where does this leave us?  Remember I said that some of the judges from the Meet the Bench write-up felt be true to yourself, well that applies here.  Your personal background gives context and history and makes you an individual, so when you do business in Hawaii we care who you are.  It may seem to make doing deals longer, but it does mean we are focused on relationship building, which means longer lasting partnerships.

Also if you read through all this and are still wondering where I went to highschool and what year did I graduate, well here is the answers:

  • I went to Punahou, and I graduated with the class of 1999.
  • I will leave the last question to you if you ever meet me to ask do I know “so-and-so.”