Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Nov. 8 general election, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions.
The following came from Mike White, a candidate for the Maui County Council’s Makawao-Haiku-Paia post. There is one other candidate, Trinette Furtado.
Name: Mike White
Office seeking: Maui County Council, Makawao-Haiku-Paia seat
Occupation: Maui County Council member and general manager of Kaanapali Beach Hotel
Community organizations/prior offices held: State representative, 1993-1998; Native Hawaiian Hospitality Association, treasurer, founding member, Board of Directors, 2005-2013; Hawaii Employers Council, Board of Governors, 2001-2014; Hawaii Hotel & Lodging Association, Board of Directors, 2000-2013; University of Hawaii School of Travel Industry Management Advisory Council, 2004-2008; Maui Hotel & Lodging Association, president, vice president, chairman, board member- Member, Hawaii State House of Representatives – 1993 to 1998
Age as of Aug. 13, 2016: 67
Place of residence: Olinda
Campaign website: www.mikewhiteforcouncil.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?
Here in Maui County, there was an important debate on our fundamental government structure. I introduced a proposal and my colleagues agreed, to form a Special Governance Committee to consider ways to improve how our government is run. The body recommended a ceremonial mayor and placing the authority to run services in a professional manager hired by the council. The council’s role would be to set policy and highly qualified professionals would carry out these directives. Department directors and deputies would be hired by the county manager through a competitive process based on merit and experience — not patronage.
Many municipalities across the country already employ this council-manager form of government and I believe it would result in a government that can better deliver services to our residents. Although this measure ultimately did not pass, it initiated the process to truly ask ourselves, how can we improve government to best fit our needs and be more transparent to the public? Change will not happen overnight, but it will take everyone working together to develop a government that works best for us.
2. Should your county implement a 0.5 percent GET surcharge? If so, for what purpose?
No. The General Excise Tax is a regressive tax that would burden Maui County’s working families. The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy last year provided sobering statistics in a survey of all 50 states’ tax policies. According to the survey, Hawaii “relies heavily on consumption taxes” and therefore, “ranks second in its taxes on the poor,” with middle-income residents also feeling negative impacts from the GET.
Instead, I have and will continue to make the case to the Legislature that more transient accommodations tax or hotel room tax funds must be returned to where it’s earned. Maui County currently generates more than $125 million in TAT revenue, but the state returns a mere $23.5 million. That amount has remained practically the same over the last 18 years, despite large increases in the cost of providing services to residents and visitors. Meanwhile, the state’s overall revenue stream has increased from $8.3 million in 2007 to $205 million this year. Over the same period, the four counties in total have received an increase of $2.2 million while costs to maintain parks, police and fire have collectively increased by $170 million. Something must be done.
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?
The Maui County Council has spent a tremendous amount of time reviewing and passing the Maui Island Plan and is currently working its way through each community plan. The council recently approved the Lanai Community Plan and will start the review of the Molokai Community Plan shortly. These documents represent a community process to indicate areas where growth should occur and areas that should be preserved. It essentially directs our growth in a strategic manner. We must follow these plans to ensure that we can keep Maui County’s natural beauty intact without overburdening local residents who also face a serious housing crises.
4. What would you do to strengthen police accountability?
Here in Maui County, I do not necessarily believe our problem is police accountability. It is recruiting and fully staffing our police department. Understandably, serving in the police force is a tough job and between retirements and promotions, it has been an ongoing challenge to keep the police force fully staffed. The council has a strong working relationship with the police department and I believe it is important to continually receive feedback on any laws that will help to better keep our community safe. It is also the council’s job to ensure that the individuals appointed by the mayor to the police commission are competent and will indeed keep the police department accountable to the people.
5. What specific steps would you take to strengthen Hawaii’s lax lobbying, ethics and financial disclosure laws?
It was only a short-time ago when the Maui County Board of Ethics did not post registered lobbyists online. In my mind, this is fundamental to open government and I urged the board to make this an easily accessible public document. They agreed, changed their policy and now post Maui County’s registered lobbyists online. I also took action at the council by changing the council’s testimony registration forms, which now requires disclosure for lobbyists testifying on measures.
In my mind, this is only the first step in reforming how we operate. This past year, I also introduced a charter amendment that would enhance the authority of the Board of Ethics to hire an executive director, allow the board to investigate matters and impose civil fines. At the current time, the board lacks these powers. I believe with these changes, we can begin to further open government and become more accountable.
6. Would you support eliminating Hawaii’s high fees for access to public records when the request is in the public interest?
Yes, I believe it is in the public’s best interest to minimize or eliminate fees for public records. In this day and age with technology, public records should be easily accessible without even having to print a document. Here at the Maui County Council, all of our documents from the past few years are stored electronically and I believe more of our county government is and will continually move in that direction as we update our technology platforms. Older documents which are not electronically archived may be an issue and may take time to access, but I do believe fees must be kept reasonable.
7. Voters complain their elected officials don’t listen to them. What would you do to improve communication?
The role of being a council member is tough. There are many different opinions and viewpoints we must consider and balance before making a decision. I always encourage anyone throughout Maui County to please email or call me if they have an opinion on any matter. I also try to be accessible via Facebook, posting relevant information to my constituents and responding to comments. In the past three budget cycles, the Budget and Finance Committee has initiated a community survey that has been mailed to residents and available online seeking input on the annual budget.
I also physically mail and email newsletters to members of my district to keep them informed. The council also has a weekly column in the Maui News. Every council and committee meeting is televised live on Akaku and streamed via our website so the public can follow our actions. However, I always welcome any feedback or suggestions on how to better communicate.
8. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
By far, the most complaints that I hear from my district are about the conditions of our county roads. Understandably, I represent a rainy part of Maui which leads to the deteriorating of roads in a faster manner. Since being elected, I have worked with the Department of Public Works to secure federal highway funds for our connector roads in Haiku and Makawao. Work is ongoing on Baldwin Avenue and Kokomo Road. Kaupakalua Road is next on the list.
When I served as Budget and Finance Committee chair, I also allowed the Department of Public Works to purchase paving equipment so they could respond faster to resurfacing requests throughout the community without having to wait for the contracting process. Road repaving will always be an ongoing issue, but it is my hope that we can continually find ways to more efficiently improve our roadways.