Candidate Q&A: Hawaii County Council District 4 — Ashley Kierkiewicz
“Puna had incredible needs even before lava started flowing – more police officers, a medical center, higher education, jobs closer to home, kupuna care. Recent volcanic activity has forever changed our community.”
Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Aug. 11 primary, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions about where they stand on various issues and what their priorities will be if elected.
The following came from Ashley Kierkiewicz, one of two candidates for Hawaii County Council, District 4, covering Hawaiian Paradise Park, Hawaiian Beaches, Makai of Pahoa Town, Nanawale Estates, Leilani Estates, Pohoiki, Kapoho. The other candidate is Eileen Ohara.
President, Zonta Club of Hilo; board member, YWCA of Hawaii Island; member, Japanese Chamber of Commerce & Industry of Hawaii, and Mainstreet Pahoa; former board member, Hawaii Island Economic Development Board; vice-chair, Hawaii County Cost of Government Commission.
1. The latest volcanic eruption demonstrates that some homes and infrastructure are particularly vulnerable to lava flow. Should this change Hawaii County’s approach to development, and if so, how?
We don’t know when Tūtū Pele will be done with her dance, but there are immediate needs of displaced ohana to address. Our focus must be to create a suite of transitional and permanent housing solutions. The county has already demonstrated its ability to expedite the planning and building permitting processes, so it’s possible to move swiftly and get things off the ground quickly. Down the line, we need to convene a working group to consider future development of the area, especially along the East Rift Zone. We’ll need to weigh the risks of possible eruptions alongside our desire to reside in nature, near the ocean and away from the hustle and bustle of town.
2. Are changes needed in how the County Council is run, and if so what are they?
The council already has a lot of processes in place related to transparency and access. What needs to change is who is on the council. We need to get the right people in who can work together to make the system work for community; folks who can collaborate, exercise fiscal responsibility, represent their constituents concerns, and work efficiently towards a common and sustainable vision are key.
3. The Legislature has authorized Hawaii County to implement a 0.5 percent GET surcharge. Should the county do it, and if so, what should the additional revenue be spent on?
If I were on the council, I would have voted for the .05 percent GET surcharge instead of the .25 percent increase that was approved. I would have used my collaborative skills to garner support among fellow council members. Right now the entirety of the 4 percent GET goes to the state; the .05 percent is a unique opportunity from the Legislature. It’s a chance to create a new source of revenue beyond raising real property tax, and to collect taxes from visitors, so the burden is not entirely on residents.
I’m disappointed the council didn’t recognize the value and seize this opportunity for our island. This was a way for Puna to get its fair share and bring resources and services to the area. I would have fought to have this money earmarked for increasing public safety, improving infrastructure and strengthening our ability to prepare and respond to emergency situations.
4. 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?
Having been born and raised on Hawaii Island, I’ve seen our island’s population grow. I’m fortunate to be raising a family in the same place I grew up. Creating opportunities and uplifting community is something I’m passionate about. I want my children and future generations to have the option to stay in the islands.
One way to do this is to incentivize investment and smart growth. Given our geographic situation, limited resources, and food/renewable energy goals, we must be thoughtful and sustainable in our approach. We can no longer make decisions solely based on what makes financial sense; we must consider cultural, environmental and social impact when evaluating a project or initiative because those are just as important as dollars and cents.
This vision to protect our working families, kupuna and thoughtfully plan for our island’s future is why I earned the endorsement of ILWU Local 142, Operating Engineers Local 3, and UPW Hawaii.
5. What would you do, if anything, to strengthen police accountability?
As a first-time candidate, I’m proud to have been endorsed by the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers. Given their limited resources, the Hawaii Police Department does a great job to ensure public safety. At any given time, eight police officers patrol Puna, a district which is the size of Oahu. I would love to increase the number of officers serving Puna, but we’re facing a revenue challenge. This is where I feel the GET would have helped.
However, we need to work within our means to increase HPD efficiency and outreach via community policing and neighborhood watch groups. If we had more officers on the road, we would decrease the strain on the existing police force, improve response times and have the resources to implement more proactive patrolling measures. I’d also work to launch an annual sports tournament that brings police offers and community together in an effort to build relationships.
6. What specific steps would you take to strengthen Hawaii’s lax lobbying, ethics and financial disclosure laws?
We need increased oversight and more accountability. Disclosure reporting – forms, schedules – should be consistent across the board. Training in ethics should be provided so all sides are aware of the laws in place.
7. Would you support eliminating Hawaii’s high fees for access to public records when the request is in the public interest?
Yes. Fees should be reasonable, and to cut down on costs, records should be offered up digitally.
8. Voters complain their elected officials don’t listen to them. What would you do to improve communication?
As a council member, my door will always be open. Just like I’ve been doing on the campaign trail, I plan to be out in the community, working to understand issues and identify ways county government can make it easier to get things done. Priorities in Hawaiian Paradise Park and Nanawale are different from Leilani Estates and Hawaiian Beaches; I would push for the district to understand what’s happening in the various communities and together, prioritize what needs to get done.
I’d issue regular updates via (e)newsletters, host community meetings, and leverage social media live video to do talk stories and answer questions in real time since driving to a meeting after a long day of work is often a barrier to folks participating.
9. What more should Hawaii County be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?
Our county needs to lead by example on the sustainability front. Planning for the future must take into account the effects of climate change, and we must ramp up our smart growth efforts, now. I’d work with Planning to develop more responsive setback and land use laws that factor in sea level rise. We need to charge ahead with renewable energy development, harnessing the variety of natural resources Hawaii Island possesses to take us to a 100 percent sustainable and secure energy future.
We must encourage a greener, more sustainable lifestyle. We can all do things like change our buying habits, use hydroflasks and reusable bags, and recycle/reuse rather than just throw away. I’d push to do a public outreach and awareness campaign to educate the community about the reality of our island’s future if we opt to do nothing, and stress the responsibility we each have to our environment and future generations.
10. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
Puna had incredible needs even before lava started flowing – more police officers, a medical center, higher education, jobs closer to home, kupuna care. Recent volcanic activity has forever changed our community. Hundreds of homes, farms, businesses have been lost and thousands of residents have been displaced. Lava eruptions continue, with no end in sight. In response to this, I worked alongside Ikaika Marzo and others to start Pu‘uhonua o Puna Info & Supply Hub in Pahoa. I’d leverage public-private partnerships to bring more services and opportunities to Puna. This kind of community-driven, collaborative style of leadership is what I’d bring to local government.