Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Aug. 13 primary election, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions.
The following came from Joseph Blackburn, a candidate for the Maui County Council’s Wailuku-Waihee-Waikapu District. There are four other candidates, Alika Atay, Hana Steel, Dane Kane and Keith Regan.
Name: Joseph G. Blackburn II
Office seeking: Maui County Council, Wailuku-Waihee-Waikapu seat
Occupation: President, Maui Land Broker and Property Management; retired captain, Maui Fire Department, and safety director, Maui Electric
Community organizations/prior offices held: Wailuku Rotary Club member; Maui Local Emergency Planning Committee, coordinator, 2015/2016; Wailuku Wolfpack Menehune basketball coach; Sport Ministry Kings Cathedral; Blackburn’s Blessings Feed the Homeless
Age as of Aug. 13, 2016: 64
Place of residence: Wailuku, Maui
Campaign website: blackburn4council.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?
The major issue for Maui has been change in the form of government. The major change I would like to see involves qualifications for all appointed positions in the County of Maui. A hiring process which would include a civil service review, drug testing, etc. As a former fire captain and police officer, you had to pass a written test and interview to get promoted, but above the rank of captain is was all interview and appointments. Why do we hold our lower-level employees to a higher standard than our administrators? Professional administrators confirmed by both the mayor and Council would help alleviate some of the problems we have now with the mayoral administration versus the County Council. We could save money using the same staff members for both branches.
2. Should your county implement a 0.5 percent GET surcharge? If so, for what purpose?
No, the GET is regressive and hurts the working class.
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?
Make a review process that makes sense and gets all the players in the same room. There are too many reviews now and they take too long. Put a hard time frame on the review process and lessen the number of parties doing a review. Do we really need an environmental assessment to build a school classroom? We need development balanced with environmental protection, but on Maui we have made it so difficult to get housing, we are pushing our working families off the island. Spencer Homes, our greatest affordable developer, is calling it quits and leaving the island due to government and anti-development factions on the island.
4. What would you do to strengthen police accountability?
Honolulu seems to have more problems than Maui. Make sure your internal affairs staff is independent and not influenced by the chief or other political influence. I am not sure the police commission concept is working properly. Any officer accused of a crime would be placed on paid administrative leave. This is what should happen in this case. As a former police officer, it is difficult to see the police chief treated differently than those under his command.
5. What specific steps would you take to strengthen Hawaii’s lax lobbying, ethics and financial disclosure laws?
Make all parties trying to influence elections or make laws/ordinances have to file a campaign spending report. The limits are fine, but I would like to know where the money is coming from for PACs and even grassroots organizations trying to influence elections. This would include any organizations that is doing endorsements. I do not like PACs as they serve on the edge of ethical behavior.
6. Would you support eliminating Hawaii’s high fees for access to public records when the request is in the public interest?
Yes, everything needs to be scanned and available electronically. We need to move from the Dark Ages.
7. Voters complain their elected officials don’t listen to them. What would you do to improve communication?
Meet with the working class. Those who do not have the time or ability to testify. Make sure I am connected to the people doing the work. Take the time to interact with people on the job. Get out of the office. Make hearings at night in the district most impacted by proposed legislation. Use Facebook and social media to get information out to the public.
8. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
Housing and homelessness. Make it easier for progress to occur in Maui County. What we do not realize is every time we pass a law, no matter how well-meaning it is, there is an economic cost. Once we pass a law it is very difficult to repeal. We really need to determine what the impacts of a law are, not just now, but years down the road.
Solutions includes helping families with down payments, with payback to the County of Maui when the property is sold. Provide a subdivision review process that has time frames and limits the amount of reviewing agencies. Allow incremental housing (Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena). Make a separate housing department within the County of Maui. Give builders incentives to build, with a process like the State 201H program which speeds approval process. Permit self-contained residential fire sprinklers instead of costly water line improvements. Have hard time limits for review of community plans.
When it comes to the hardcore homeless, four out of seven are veterans. Veterans are not getting what they need from the VA. The state Department of Health is also part of the problem, not providing enough resources for those with mental health issues. The county can help by providing some type of smaller tent parks for the homeless. This way we can open up our recreational parks again for families.