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Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Aug. 13 primary election, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions.
The following came from Michael Bernard, a candidate for Hawaii County Council District 4, which includes Hawaiian Paradise Park, Hawaiian Beaches, Makai of Pahoa Town, Nanawale Estates, Leilani Estates, Pohoiki and Kapoho. There are two other candidates, Eileen O’Hara and Madeline Greene.
Name: Michael R. Bernard
Office seeking: Hawaii County Council, District 4
Occupation: Businessman, community college instructor
Community organizations/prior offices held: Parents School for Autistic Children, volunteer; Harvard Community Health, community liaison; Asian & Pacific Island Wellness Center, families campaign volunteer; Native American Youth and Family Center, marketing/communications volunteer; Ronald MacDonald House, corporate sponsor; SCORE, Hawaii Counselors to America’s Small Businesses, community volunteer; Hawaiian Paradise Park Neighborhood Watch Program, vice president
Age as of Aug. 13, 2016: 70
Place of residence: Hawaiian Paradise Park, Keaau, Hawaii County
Campaign website: votemichaelbernard.com
1: This year has seen an outsized influence from people who want big changes in how government is run. What would you do to change how the Council is run?
As a truly fresh voice, with the experience and background to support my candidacy, my first proposal as a County Council member will require all submitted legislation to address the following:
Actual author of legislation.
Have any lobbyists influenced the legislation?
Who will enforce legislation and have they agreed to do so?
How many additional employees will be required to enforce legislation?
A five-year outlook to include cost of legislation and effect on property tax base.
2. Should your county implement a 0.5 percent GET surcharge? If so, for what purpose?
District 4 is one of the lowest per capita income areas in Hawaii. Our district cannot afford more taxes to support a state budget that has become weighty in personnel and light in services. Budget transparency equals more resources applied where needed. Civil Beat describes the GET in this way: “As a broad-based tax, the GET adds extra costs to the manufacturing of products at every step of the way, from the material supplier to the manufacturer to the wholesaler to the retailer. The GET is regarded as part of the Price of Paradise because of its cumulative effect on the price of goods and services. It increases the price tag of both living and doing business in Hawaii.”
Let the legislators on Oahu learn to tighten their belts and stop special interest spending so the counties receive their fair share of the GET. In 2013 the state Legislature approved the Green Energy Market Securities and $150 million was raised in a bond sale. The goal was to lend money for solar and other green energy projects. So far, $21.5 million has been spent in overhead costs, the director of the program earns $138,000 per year, and $385,000 was lent for 12 installations. That alone could have provided 1,075 homes with full solar power.
3. There is a desire to grow the economy through new development yet also a need to protect our limited environmental resources. How would you balance these competing interests?
Hawaii County has subdivisions that were formed in the 1960s and ’70s and have very few restrictions as to activity, types of living accommodations and waste management. The county needs to be more diligent in its oversight of health and safety. Additionally, our infrastructure must match the communities need to establish businesses, take on-line courses and rely on emergency systems.
Random tsunami warning signals are not OK, inactive 911 systems are not OK. Outrageous internet bills are not OK. When federal dollars are provided to improve connectivity in rural areas, local internet providers should use those dollars in all communities, not just on Oahu. This is 2016, not 1995.
Why has it taken so long to address our fire ant problems? How can small farmers establish businesses when they must deal with issues that have been around for years? How can we interest schoolchildren to go out into educational training gardens when they know they will be stung by fire ants? The County Council must use its “bully pulpit” to let our legislators on Oahu know Hawaii County has health and safety issues, and we need resources to manage them, in a timely manner, not after the issues become epidemic.
4. What would you do to strengthen police accountability?
I am running to improve transparency and accountability throughout all county departments. I am the only candidate, including the current Council members, who has over 25 years of experience in both large and small budget management and oversight. Taxpayers deserve to know where their tax dollars are being spent. We need more beat police to match our growth and the only way that will happen is to audit the budget down to the department level. If additional staff is needed, fine, and if savings can be found by tighter controls, get it done.
Our police work very hard to enforce laws and keep us safe. Let’s help them do their job by reinforcing their needs at the beat level. The county budget is approaching half a billion dollars, with over 2,700 employees. This is a very large budget that requires large budget management and accountability experience.
5. What specific steps would you take to strengthen Hawaii’s lax lobbying, ethics and financial disclosure laws?
Our Board of Ethics should be restructured to include one member recommended by each Council member, and two from the mayor. Financial spending should be transparent and timely. Every Council member should report how much they have received from lobbyist, unions, off-shore special interest groups, including in-kind donations. Citizens should not have to pay disproportionate fees to unearth this information.
6. Would you support eliminating Hawaii’s high fees for access to public records when the request is in the public interest?
Absolutely, this is obstructionism at its finest.
7. Voters complain their elected officials don’t listen to them. What would you do to improve communication?
Communications and community meetings on a regular basis via multiple venues in the languages of the district to reach as many residents as possible, and provide free bus transportation to and from County Council meetings to encourage participation. I have only sought the support of residents in District 4 because I want to know what they need, not what an Oahu or mainland-centric group wants for our district. They do not live here, why should they influence what happens here? My campaign is self-funded, with zero dollars coming from Oahu or the mainland.
8. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
District 4 has a long list of outstanding issues; homelessness, evacuation routes, added police protection, yet the lists repeats itself every two years during elections. Isn’t it time to let truly fresh ideas, from candidates with actual large budget experience, negotiating skills and extensive community involvement, take a shot at shortening the list? Enough studies, it’s time to take action. Anyone can come up with a wish list of pet projects, yet without budget efficiency and transparency it will remain a wish list. I will work for all of Puna, not just a subset of our district.
As a father, former special education teacher and substance abuse program manager I understand the challenges facing parents today, as a business man I understand the need for transparency in county government and as a small business counselor I understand the roadblocks to become successful. With over 40 years of community volunteering I understand the obstacles underfunded organizations face in trying to achieve their objectives. And I understand the challenges of those in my age group who spent their lives working so they and their children can reap the rewards of that hard work. I humbly ask for your vote on Aug.13.