‘The Shadowâ€™Works For Public Safety
Serving as Kaua’i’s volunteer watchdog, Jerome Freitas makes sure potentially hazardous locations are properly maintained
Persistence pays. At least it does for Jerome “The Shadow” Freitas, Kaua’i’s volunteer watchdog.
Concerned about public safety and health, as well as maintaining Kaua’i’s landscape, Freitas stops at nothing to get people’s attention regarding neglected parts of the island, such as overgrown plots of land and other eyesores.
“We have to take care of our infrastructure and make sure everything is OK,” he says. “When tourists go sight-seeing, we have to make sure every-thing’s clean, not overgrown. You want to make sure when they go back home, they say it’s a beautiful island without all the junk. I think it’s very important to take care of our ‘aina.”
People within the community regularly contact Freitas when they are distressed about a particular area, and the Kealia resident takes on the task of making countless phone calls, conducting face-to-face meetings and writing numerous letters to the appropriate individuals who can amend the hazardous situations.
And it works.
Over the past six years that he’s played the island’s steward, Freitas has managed to initiate the cleanup of several locations, including the removal of decrepit docks on Wailua River and the clearing of a gnarled plot of land in Kapa’a. But it often takes the retired Department of Transportation maintenance baseyard employee a lot of time and effort. For example, an unsightly lot on Rice Street in Lihu’e, left seemingly abandoned for years, continues to be overlooked by its owners. The lot, which is adjacent to a preschool, has citizens worried.
“This is a health hazard and a fire hazard,” says Freitas one afternoon as he points to the large area of tangled foliage. “There are probably a lot of rodents. It doesn’t look nice.”
Even though he contacted the owners several months ago asking them to take care of their property, nothing has been done. So Freitas plans to file a complaint with the county, the next step in what could potentially be a lengthy process.
To help avoid situations like this, Freitas also makes an effort to regularly meet with county department heads. In fact, he will soon bring a list of locations to their attention in order to allocate enough money in the budget to fix what he feels are unsafe areas.
“Things like this cost money, so it has to be budgeted,” he says as he displays his portfolio with documentation of numerous spots in need of attention. “If you don’t say something, you lose out.”
He also meets with Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. at least once a month.
“He listens and wants to know the concerns,” Freitas says.
But Freitas didn’t always meet with county officials and scout for neglected land and park facilities. The graduate of Kapa’a High and former soldier in the U.S. Army worked various jobs until he found his place of employment with the state. It wasn’t until 2004 that he was able to retire and find what some might say is his true calling in life.
He recalls his first success at keeping the public’s safety in check after stumbling upon a large pothole in Kapa’a shortly after his retirement. The gaping hole was eventually filled, but only after Freitas made sure of it.
Now, the grandfather of three who is a caregiver for his 87-year-old mother, Lucy, has a web-site where people can contact him with concerns or find out more about his ongoing “pothole patrol.”
“The public likes to know what I’m working on,” he says.
Born and raised on Kaua’i, Freitas says he’ll always have a place in his heart for the land.
“Kaua’i is called the Garden Island,” he says. “It’s a beautiful island and we have to take care of it. It’s not what the island can do for you, it’s what you can do for Kaua’i.”
And no matter what unforeseen obstacles could potentially block his way, Freitas will continue to be the spokesman for the island and its people.
“The ‘aina is crying for help, so it’s the responsibility of the public to speak,” he says. “The land cannot talk itself; it has to be the people.”
For more information, contact Freitas at 635-3528, firstname.lastname@example.org or https://theshadow96746.tripod.com.