Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Nov. 8 general election, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions.
Name: Mason K. Chock
Office seeking: Kauai County Council
Occupation: Kauai Couinty Council member
Community organizations/prior offices held: County of Kauai, Drug Prevention Coalition, past co-chairman; Kamehameha Schools Association of Kauai, director; Kamehameha Schools Alumni Association of Kauai, vice president; Kauai Planning and Action Alliance, director; Kauai Workforce Investment Board, youth council member; Filipino Chamber of Commerce, member; Kauai Chamber of Commerce, member; Association of Experiential Education, member; Leadership Kauai, vice president; Hoouluwehi Sustainability Advisory Council, member; American Heart Association , first aid and CPR instructor; Kauai Fire Department Relief Fund, board director; Kanu I Ka Pono Charter School, board director, founding board member; Fatherhood Coalition, founding member; Keiki To Career Kauai, Leadership Council; Anaina Hou, cultural advisor; Association of Challenge Course Technology, member; Malama Huleia, Steering Committee, member; Kauai Education Leadership Alliance, member; Kauai Area Complex Hookele Council, member
Place of residence: Wailua Homesteads, Kauai
Campaign website: mason4kauai.org
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?
My interest that may be different from the traditional candidate seeking office is my belief in establishing shared priorities, outcomes and commitments that are achieved through shared vision planning at the Council which will strengthen the process for more in depth, complex problem solving to occur. I believe this may be achieved with a few simple charter amendments that commit council members focusing on achieving alignment.
Our community deserves critical thinking and healthy conflict that will result in the best possible outcomes for the county. I am a leadership development facilitator by trade and believe change is best achieved through the art of mobilizing people towards a shared vision and outcome that they agree should occur. At the Council level, this requires independent thinkers who are willing to disagree in the spirit of seeking a common outcome through intense problem solving and dialogue and then commit to the direction set by the collective voice.
This not only requires trust, but the advocacy for healthy conflict so that issues are thoroughly vetted and approached objectively, in turn stripping away the entrenched perspectives and political agendas that have proliferated our system.
2. Should your county implement a 0.5 percent GET surcharge? If so, for what purpose?
This question comes a bit late in the process as the GET has already been voted down. The current effort to draft an assets management policy and general strategy will include annually setting aside funds for preventive maintenance. This will be an important step in prioritizing needs as well as determining budget goals and limits, however, I don’t foresee being able to accommodate the annual $10 million needed to catch up on our roads and bridges deficit that total $130 million. We need to consider all options thoroughly and apply them as fairly possible to address this backlog.
A combination of revenue approaches will need to be considered in solidifying these infrastructure needs. The community sentiment is against any tax increases so solutions are limited. I have also been actively looking into transient revenue generating options, however, the state has limitations on what we can tax when it comes to rental cars fees, tolls or taxes and other visitor fees. We will need to continue lobbying our state for our share of Transient Accommodation Tax revenue and ask to allow county taxing oversight for visitor related fees specific to our road improvement needs. We should keep the GET option open.
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?
Proper planning is the key to accommodate our island lifestyle and rural character. Mixed use by implementing Form Based Code will also allow growth to occur without impacting a continued sprawl effect. Community engagement throughout the General Plan update is paramount in determining our planning needs.
Preserving our open spaces is key to keeping our rural character. Our Open Space Commission has recently identified a more effective process to acquire these important accesses, trails and historic sites. Along with acquiring open spaces, we need to be equipped to care for these areas. We will need to develop stewardship agreements with the community to ensure everyone is doing their share in keeping Kauai clean and accessible.
Agriculture is still a viable answer to preserving Kauai’s character while expanding our economic base. We need to diversify agriculture and create models of success so a new generation of entrepreneur minded farmers can thrive. This will take local and state government along with existing partners to assist in developing this industry.
I don’t think we need to expand our visitor accommodations. If anything we need to develop new economic bases that will help create the balance we are seeking.
4. What would you do to strengthen police accountability?
Kauai County has recently become one of the first departments in the state to use body cameras. I was supportive of this initiative and I believe this will help accountability for police and the public alike. I also think strong prosecution needs to be followed through whenever it involves our police. As overseers of the law our public safety officers in our community need to be the models for what is expected and when the standards are not followed by our own officers, we need to ensure an example is made of those who carry the honor of wearing a badge or trust will be lostm which will lead to real issues in the community.
Investing more time in developing clear standards and oversight for our police commission to play a larger accountability, efficiency and capacity role in the police department may be one way to address accountability concerns that the public has.
5. What specific steps would you take to strengthen Hawaii’s lax lobbying, ethics and financial disclosure laws?
In this last term, Kauai County Council passed a stringent lobbying bill that will help to ensure disclosure transparency and accountability is complied with. I believe our ethics process could also be improved upon so that ethics ruling takes a more proactive approach to potential ethics violations prior to decisions being made or before people are placed into decision-making positions.
The ethics commission should run an ethics check on every potential Council or board and commission candidate and be more active at following forecasted issues that may pose ethical conflicts ahead of time, rather than from a responsive standpoint. I believe financial disclosure could be improved on with the hiring of a professional county auditor. There may be more opportunity for improvement for the internal transfer process as well, however, technology has increased accessibility to the county finances through the OpenGov portal and our finance department should be commended for this addition.
6. Would you support eliminating Hawaii’s high fees for access to public records when the request is in the public interest?
I would support eliminating Hawaii’s high fees for access to public records to a reasonable fee when it is specifically for the public interest and not for the use of corporate gain. Those guidelines would need to be further established to preserve fairness and accessibility.
7. Voters complain their elected officials don’t listen to them. What would you do to improve communication?
Maybe if voters were to elect people into office who value listening to all points of view rather than a specific mindset or agenda, we would experience more openmindedness and objectivity from elected officials. That being said, we could do a lot more at improving communication by providing more avenues for community engagement and access to public officials through new technology that can coordinate and organize communication threads. There are interface tools I want to implement, but our leaders will need to see the value in such technology in order to invest in them as well as use them effectively.
Internally, I intend to build relationships that allow for more open communication between our legislative branch, administration and the public so that a cultural shift in our government system can occur. If we can solve problems collaboratively, trust can be gained to help us work more cohesively, rather than solely strategically. Consistency and continuity is important for the public to regain trust in government. We must do what we say we will do, and when we don’t we must take ownership for the failures of our system.
8. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
The financial plan is of utmost importance. We are currently in the process of completing a budget plan which will make it easier to prioritize our goals as well as eliminate projects that don’t serve the main priorities for our county. We also need multiple approaches to our housing issue to increase supply. Allowing an increase in density where projected growth is expected and has been planned is an important feature to control sprawl. We will need to consider addressing changes in the following areas to answer our housing issues:
• Rezoning to allow more housing units in areas of projected and planned growth.
• Waiving or reducing of infrastructure costs where feasible for affordable unit development.
• Affordable rates to be held in perpetuity on housing development projects.
• Consider smaller unit type construction in certain areas or specific projects.
• Re-evaluate what percentage of medium household income to go by in determining our affordable rental exemptions. I believe affordable will need to fall within the 80-100 percent range to truly serve those struggling.
• Acquisition of land specific for affordable units.
• Increase the capacity of our currently limited housing agency along with a multi-agency approach to addressing affordable housing needs on Kauai.