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Mamuad Continues to Make Waves for Maui County

Settlement talks fall through: “The gloves are now off,” says MAUIWatch CEO.

April 29, 2014
Susan Halas - Contributing Writer (wailukusue@gmail.com) , Maui Weekly

Many people thought the story of Neldon Mamuad and his First Amendment suit against the County of Maui was over when the County Council voted 6 to 1 on April 17 to authorize the settlement of his complaint.

Mamuad, who heads MAUIWatch, a popular crowd-sourced digital news page on Facebook (see "MAUIWatch History & 'Likes'" sidebar on page 2), got into hot water with his superiors, because MPD officer Keith Taguma filed a complaint last fall alleging that Mamuad (who also works part-time for the county) was responsible for the "workplace violence" offense of "cyber bullying."

As a result, Mamuad was tagged for disciplinary action and protested the decision. From August to March, Maumuad and the county went back and forth on it to no avail. On March 3, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on O'ahu filed a federal lawsuit on Mamuad's behalf, alleging First Amendment free-speech violations.

Article Photos

At age 37, Molokai native Neldon Mamuad says he knows “what a unique and special place we have become. We know who we are. We do not have to emulate anyone or any place.”

The suit claims that the county infringed on his First Amendment rights of free speech and free comment, and took punitive action without providing for an appeals' procedure.

Even though Taguma worked for the county and Mamuad worked for the county, the ACLU complaint said the county had no legal basis to prevent him from observing Taguma and recording his actions. It also disputed the right of the county to punish him for those actions and make that punishment a permanent part of Mamuad's employment record.

Until recently, Mamuad made no public statements. But that all changed on April 21.

"Now We're Talking"--Neldon Mamuad

That was the date a LAWSUITWatch commentary was posted on the MAUIWatch Facebook page over Mamuad's signature.

He wrote: "Over the past few weeks, the No. 1 question asked by MAUIWatchers has been: 'What's happening with the lawsuit?

"Well, the gloves are now off and I am able to give you an update as to the present state of our litigation: The county has apparently walked! We thought we were about to finalize a settlement agreement, but the county kept wanting more, more, more!

"We agreed to withdraw our motion for temporary restraining order. And I've held my tongue about the status of the case to try to settle this matter civilly. Councilman Hokama called me a cyber bully and Councilman Victorino said, 'Why are we paying his attorneys for this?' but I kept silent.

"But while I've held my tongue regarding what's been happening with the litigation out of respect, the county went to federal court with a letter that read, in essence, 'We weren't wrong for anything, but we won't punish you at this time.' They say I got lucky."

"And they filed papers with the court [on April 21], saying, basically, that 'Mamuad is correct that we violated his rights, and we're not going to do anything to change our policies, but trust us, we won't do it again.

"But because the county hasn't changed its policies, I can still be punished if I say anything that 'bothers' another Maui County official (that's what the current policy says). So I still can't speak freely--but I'm going to court to make sure we change that for everyone."

Among the other disputed points were attempts to require a gag order, meaning the terms of the settlement would not be made public, and the county's reluctance to agree to language that had been used in prior settlements of First Amendment issues here.

According to a statement by Daniel Gluck, the ACLU senior attorney handling the Mamuad suit, "We engaged in lengthy mediation and settlement negotiations over the last several weeks. Despite our good-faith efforts to resolve the case fairly, quickly and for a fraction of our fees and costs, the county has apparently walked away from what we thought was a near-final agreement. Now the case will move ahead in federal court with Maui taxpayers footing the bill.

"The county's actions are very curious, given that its legal papers do not dispute that Mr. Mamuad's First Amendment rights were violated," wrote Gluck. "We are committed to litigating this case to ensure that Mr. Mamuad--and all of Maui's residents--can engage in protected speech."

Rod Antone, a public information spokesperson for the county, said the matter is being handled for the county by special counsel Richard Rand on O'ahu.

According to Rand, "The County of Maui remains hopeful that the settlement reached in mediation will be finalized. Settlement discussions are by their nature confidential, and we will respect that process by not commenting further at this time."

Mamuad for Mayor?

As you may have noticed, this is a story with political overtones, playing out in an election year. But you might not have noticed a new Facebook page launched in early April--"Mamuad for Mayor."

By late April, it accumulated 400 likes.

So far, incumbent Mayor Alan Arakawa has only token opposition and a very large war chest. However, even with his overwhelming financial advantage, it looks like there is no shortage of challengers. So far, besides Arakawa, there are five other candidates who have pulled papers. Mamuad is not one of them, but he has until June 3 to file.

The candidates who have declared so far might not be serious contenders, they might not win, and they might not fit in with the prevailing mode of what a politician should do or say. What Mamuad has that the others lack is a following.

The "Mamuad for Mayor" Facebook page identifies him as native of Molokai and the CEO of MAUIWatch Media Group LLC in Kahului from July 2013 to the present. His Facebook bio estimates the page receives 50,000 viewers a week.

It also states that Mamuad continues to work as director of event technology in Lanai City, providing audiovisual services for The Four Seasons Resort on Lana'i at Manele Bay and at The Lodge at Koele.

He was formerly employed by Pacific Radio Group from 2005 to 2007, overseeing Web systems. He also worked with them from 2002 to 2007 as program director of daily operations at a local radio station.

"I was born and raised on Molokai," Mamuad wrote, "moved to Maui in 1990 and have worked on Lana'i for over six years. I watched Maui mature as a county, and at age 37, I know what a unique and special place we have become. We know who we are. We do not have to emulate anyone or any place. "

Not the End of the Story

This is not the end of the story--only the latest installment. Only two things are certain: You couldn't make up something this convoluted, and it is playing on the same timetable as the election.

 
 
 

 

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