- Special Projects
Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Nov. 8 general election, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions.
Name: JoAnn A. Yukimura
Office seeking: Kauai County Council
Occupation: Full-time Council member
Community organizations/prior offices held: Council member, 1976-80, 1984-88, 2002-08, 2010-16; mayor, 1988-94; Boys and Girls Club of Hawaii, Kauai Branch Advisory Board; Lihue Christian Church; Kauai Public Land Trust; Hawaii Island Land Trust; Keiki To Career; League of Women Voters
Age as of Aug. 13, 2016: 66
Place of residence: Lihue, Kauai
Campaign website: www.JoAnnYukimura.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?
I would fix the Council’s rules that excessively limit Council members’ speaking time and prohibit the asking of questions. These rules affect every decision the Kauai County Council makes and every problem it addresses through its three major kuleana: law-making, budget decision-making and investigatory/oversight powers.
The rules adopted by a simple majority of the current Council arbitrarily suppress fact-finding, discussion and dissent. They prohibit Council members from asking questions of members of the public who testify before the Council, they limit a Council member from speaking more than a total of five minutes and more than twice on any subject even though what the Council member may have to say could inform the debate and may be totally relevant to the issue. Irrelevant or inappropriate comments can be controlled by a discerning chair.
These rules limiting debate would not have been possible under Roberts Rules of Order, which requires a supermajority to limit debate; robust debate is one of the fundamental premises of democratic decision-making. The Councilʻs rules also disenfranchise the voters who voted for Council members to speak up on their behalf.
Removing those rules would greatly improve the quality and outcomes of the council’s decision-making on behalf of the people.
2. Should your county implement a 0.5 percent GET surcharge? If so, for what purpose?
The county should have implemented the 0.5 percent GET surcharge — ”should have” because the option expired July 1, after which there is no option to implement. By rejecting Bill 2610, as amended, the Council forfeited a chance to raise $10 million a year for 10 years — money desperately needed on Kauai for road repair and bus expansion.
I lobbied for a county excise tax power because Kauai County has a far-sighted multimodal land transportation plan that will provide a sustainable land transportation system into the future, if funded. I favored earmarking the excise tax monies for public bus systems on the neighbor island counties because while the tax is regressive, utilizing it for transit will help the poor and working classes more and thus offset the tax’s regressive impacts.
I preferred to use fuel and vehicle weight taxes to address Kauai Countyʻs $100 million backlog in road and bridge repair as a fairer policy, but my bills to do so were soundly defeated. I was thus willing to compromise by supporting a 0.25 percent excise tax to secure the excise tax option for 10 years, with the Council determining allocations for road repair and bus expansion annually.
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 best way to grow our economy is to have a clear collective vision as to what we want and a sound strategic plan for achieving our collective vision. We must implement our plan with diligence, flexibility and careful monitoring of outcomes — no small tasks.
We want development that meets our needs without causing environmental harm. The National Tropical Botanical Gardens is a fine example of such development. It advances conservation of worldwide importance, provides a variety of quality jobs and a quality visitor experience. It also promotes community education serving na keiki to kupuna. The building of affordable homes; needed public works, including community facilities such as the proposed Creative Tech Center and Kauai’s famous Ke Ala Hele Makalae coastal path; and other “smart growth” projects provide a multitude of construction-related jobs, enhance the visitor experience and generate prosperity.
Applying environmental consciousness and rigorous sustainability analysis to all projects is crucial. Just because a project is meeting a need doesn’t mean it can be implemented in any way. Case in point is the Lima Ola affordable housing project in Eleele Kauai, which is being fast-tracked without abiding by smart growth and good planning principles.
4. What would you do to strengthen police accountability?
I have been pleased to witness a growing professionalism in the Kauai Police Department. The department is to be commended for its recent major drug busts, other crime solving successes, a huge improvement in achieving timely recruitment, reductions in overtime, innovative efforts in achieving efficiency and cost-effectiveness.
That being said, any large paramilitary organization asserting the police power requires strong accountability mechanisms. Primary is a strong and independent police commission that interacts with the chief to ensure that leadership at the top is accountable and supported. That power is vested primarily in the mayor who appoints the police commission.
The second accountability mechanism is the citizen complaint process administered by the police commission. Fair and credible handling of complaints will give citizens assurance that there is good oversight.
The third accountability mechanism includes the Councilʻs oversight of administrative activities and the control of purse strings. I will continue to ask the hard questions and exert budgetary controls and requirements to keep the police department accountable to its mission “to protect and to serve” cost-effectively.
In approving body cameras, we provided the department with the opportunity to collect real time data which, properly administered, should protect both the officers and the public.
5. What specific steps would you take to strengthen Hawaii’s lax lobbying, ethics and financial disclosure laws?
Based on my experience in being a subject of a complaint before the ethics board (no finding of violation) and having made several complaints myself, these are my thoughts: The process should be made into a quasi-judicial format that requires application of law to facts in a systematic way that establishes precedent and guidance for future situations. The ethics board should be given sufficient investigatory support to enable competent investigations when a complaint is made. Presently the Kauai County Board of Ethics makes its decisions based on information provided by the complainant and the respondent. That often leaves major information gaps. Often the complainant suspects something is wrong but doesn’t have the wherewithal to investigate — and shouldn’t have to investigate.
6. Would you support eliminating Hawaii’s high fees for access to public records when the request is in the public interest?
Yes is my answer — the easy answer. The harder question to answer is, “What constitutes the public interest?” I am sure jurisdictions all over the country have answered the second question, and I would turn to them to see what has worked and not worked.
7. Voters complain their elected officials don’t listen to them. What would you do to improve communication?
I actively listen — not just to voters, but to children and young people, experts, visitors, non-voters, newspaper and other information sources — because you can never tell who has the information you need to make the right decision for the community:
I attend community events as much as possible. I gain so much in appreciation and understanding from experiencing and interacting everyone at these events. I also obtain a lot of information and hear people’s concerns.
I try to read and answer all my emails.
I voraciously read publications covering life on Kauai and in Hawaii.
I recently held a public workshop entitled “How to Have a Voice.” Participants learned how a bill becomes law, how to access information from Council services, how to participate effectively with the County Council. I plan to hold such workshops periodically.
My cell number is readily available to the public.
I try to really listen when a constituent approaches me or calls.
I try to return all calls.
I send emails periodically explaining my positions or sharing my analysis of an issue before the council and invite comment.
I write opinion pieces for newspapers on current issues.
8. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
The most pressing issue is the lack of affordable housing. Finding an affordable home on the market is impossible for most when multi-millionaires buy land on Kauai, and the median price of a single family home is $600,000-plus.
For 26 years in elected office, I have helped provide over 1,500 affordable homes on Kauai. Spearheading innovation, I championed the first self-help housing on Kauai in 1988. More recently, with the Kolopua (Princeville) Koae (Poipu) projects, I helped to ensure that these units will be permanently affordable — i.e., always and only available to income-qualified families.
An advisory committee that I convened will soon propose policy changes that will greatly advance the provision of affordable housing. It converts the turnkey requirement in the countyʻs inclusionary housing ordinance into a land-and-offsite-infrastructure requirement that will make the policy more workable for private developers, while allowing the county to own and control the land, which then enables government assisted housing to be permanently affordable. This will allow Kauai’s affordable housing inventory to grow. It encourages the location of housing that minimizes fossil fuel usage and transportation costs. I also support additional rental unit legislation where it’s appropriate to increase density and growth.