Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Aug. 13 primary election, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions.
The following came from Marlene Nachbar Hapai, a candidate for Hawaii County mayor. There are 12 other candidates.
Name: Marlene Nachbar Hapai
Office seeking: Hawaii County mayor
Occupation: Educator, scientist, small business owner/manager
Community organizations/prior offices held: Puna Regional Emergency Preparedness Fair, co-chair, 2013, 2014; Puna Community Development Plan Action Committee, Connectivity and Emergency, Response Subcommittee chair, 2013-present; PacificTsunami Museum Board Member, 2008-2014; Hui Malama Ola Na Oiwi Native Hawaiian Health Care System, board member, 2011-present; Hawaii Island Portuguese Chamber of Commerce, president, junior/senior vice present, board member, 2011-present; Alumni & Friends, Saint Joseph School, president, 2011-present University of Hawaii Board of Regents, 2006-2008, regent emeritus
Age as of Aug. 13, 2016: 68
Place of residence: Kurtistown, Hawaii
Follow on Facebook: Marlene Hapai Politician
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 county government is run?
My experience working with the Puna Community Development Plan Action Committee and chairing its subcommittee on Connectivity and Emergency Response has helped develop a model that provides a more direct link between the county and the community. Input goes through the PCDP Action Committee to county department heads, instead of individuals trying to each get what they want. Once the procedure was in place, any individual requests were directed by the department head to the Action Committee and considered as other similar requests were considered. This gave additional weight to the action under consideration and eliminated “back door” requests that did not represent the community as a whole.
I think a similar procedure should be adopted by the Council as a more holistic approach to community needs and budget allocations. Also, I would like to see more virtual sites available for community members to attend Council meetings, such as Honokaa, Kamuela, Laupahoehoe and Ocean View on Hawaii Island. I would also like to see some type of policy put in place regarding absenteeism so Council members are accountable to their constituents.
2. Should your county implement a 0.5 percent GET surcharge? If so, for what purpose?
No. I actively testified against this. It is already a known fact that these types of taxes hit the elderly, disabled and young most. They also have a negative impact on those with fixed incomes and those earning minimum wage and small businesses. There are other ways to increase revenues that can be explored instead of increasing this tax.
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 been very proactive in creating community development plans which include environmental, heath and safety, social, cultural and business concerns, along with many others. Although not every community has completed their plans, some are already being used for decision making, as in the Puna plan, while others are nearing completion.
Often we do business backwards in Hawaii and that is why we are often quoted to have a negative business environment. Big business comes in with great ideas that could benefit communities, but they are not aware of the wants and needs of the communities they would like to become a part of, often spending millions of dollars in the process and being turned away. Using the community development plans, the community has done the marketing for business. Their plan welcomes businesses that meet their wants and needs and saves interested businesses time and money.
Additionally I have seen the positive impact of public/private partnerships, such as the Hawaii Community College Palamanui campus in Kona which involved a private donor for the building, the state to put in infrastructure and the county to put in a park.
4. What would you do to strengthen police accountability?
I believe for things to change, change must come from within. A process that helps the police department understand things that the community is questioning would help. As the police provide safety services, it would be good to start with an internal examination of the department that includes: public expectations and department goals and work toward common goals that are attainable or can be accomplished in the short term.
Next they should work toward long-term goals that all feel are important. This may also be an area where the county needs additional help and may consider public/private/non-
5. What specific steps would you take to strengthen Hawaii’s lax lobbying, ethics and financial disclosure laws?
I would make sure they are applicable to anyone receiving compensation for their work, public or private, and consider greater regulation for higher awards received through government. We need to make sure we have a fair system and that awards are transparent. I believe many of these regulations are in place. They need to be followed.
6. Would you support eliminating Hawaii’s high fees for access to public records when the request is in the public interest?
Yes, as long as it does not hurt innocent individuals. We must continue to consider individuals innocent until proven guilty and not have trials by media.
7. Voters complain their elected officials don’t listen to them. What would you do to improve communication?
I believe we need to have regular meetings where the public can meet with elected representatives at least on a quarterly basis, so representatives can receive input as well as inform residents of their accomplishments. More so, all public meetings need to be communicated better so people feel they have the opportunity to participate. This would be a good topic to put before the public to find out how they can best be reached and served in their specific area.
8. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your county? What will you do about it?
Having worked closely with the Puna community on connectivity and emergency response since 2013, it is clear that health and safety need to be at the forefront for the island of Hawaii. Not only are we the No. 1 county out of over 3,000 in the nation with the greatest number of natural hazards that can occur at the same time, but we have shelters for only 35,000 of our almost 200,000 residents and many people have only one way in and one way out of where they live.
In upper Puna alone, between Keaau and Volcano, we have a two-lane highway servicing 25,000 residents and millions of visitors to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park with minimal streetlights, no emergency call boxes, no public restrooms and many of these one way in/out subdivision roads merging onto this highway.
Due to our surge in population, not accompanied by equivalent improvements in infrastructure, we have arrived at a critical state where we must be proactive in health and safety issues or pay the price in hazard response. Here again, the county will need to partner with state and federal government and private business and non-profits to meet these needs.