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 Frederic Wirick, one of three candidates for Hawaii County Council District 5 covering W.H. Shipman Industrial Park, 9-1/2 mile Camp, Keaau Ag Lots, Kurtistown, Mt. View, Glenwood, Orchidland Estates, Ainaloa, Hawaiian Acres, Fern Acres, Eden Roc, Fern Forest Estates, Mauka of Pahoa Town, Kaohe Homesteads, Kamali‘i Homesteads, Kalapana, Opihikau, Kehena and Kaimu.
There are two other candidates, Matthew Kanealii-Kleinfelder and Jennifer Ruggles.
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?
This is a complex and complicated question. We live on an island with an active volcano and defined volcanic rifts. Since 1960 there have been four flows on or near the east rift, and one flow in the mid-1980s from Mauna Loa that stopped about three miles mauka of Hilo.
I think the real question goes back to the State of Hawaii. In fact, pre-State of Hawaii — to the land developers that originally purchased and promoted many of these communities and lands that are now impacted by the lava. In the 1950s many of these Puna communities were marketed but lacked the basic infrastructure. They were primarily marketed as agricultural lands and secondarily as residential. These were affordable agricultural lands with abundant rain and year around growing and that remained the main selling point through the 1980s. But ever since then the direction has shifted to residential developments throughout Puna.
Both the State of Hawaii and Hawaii County should take a close look at Puna District, the limited infrastructure and the fact that most of Puna District is designated as agricultural lands — and not a residential development.
2. Are changes needed in how the County Council is run, and if so what are they?
The answer is yes, many changes are needed. First of all, all candidates for County Council must understand that we represent our individual communities as well as our island community. The well being of our island and Hawaii County residents as whole is our responsibility. We must work together for the greater good.
The elected County Council is responsible and accountable for the spending of our tax dollars. County Council members must critically review every budget, spending proposal and more that comes across the table, working very closely with an investigative staff to ensure that we appropriate and spend our tax dollars responsibly.
3. The Legislature has authorized the 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?
We need to get back to the basics: accountability of how the current revenue is being spent before moving forward to generate additional revenue. Hawaii County needs a more defined mission, specifically what can and should be done, rather than spend more.
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 completing interests?
Hawaii Island is primarily agricultural zoned. It is time we get back to the basics. We have the real potential to become self-reliant and self-sufficient when it comes to agriculture and farm-to-table production. This movement starts in our own backyard, grows to the family-farm, and finally to those who are able to help supply food for their neighbors and community.
Protecting environmental resources are important but most important is our willingness and ability to feed ourselves, the people of Hawaii Island. Sustainable agriculture, food independence, food security – food sovereignty should be our primary focus and we should plant the seeds for the future now. We can only do this working together.
5. What would you do, if anything, to strengthen police accountability?
On Hawaii Island and specifically Puna District, our Hawaii Police Department is understaffed and overworked. Since 2005 our District has almost doubled, growing from about 25,000 to 50,000 residents. In addition, the infrastructure in Puna District, in particular the roads, are a real problem for all emergency response vehicles and personnel (police, fire and medical). It is time for both the federal and state governments to take responsibility (with our tax dollars) and to help improve these roads and in turn improve the emergency response time for all emergency response vehicles, personnel and crews.
Police accountability starts by being able to respond to an incident in timely manner, with better roads, and more officers per capita to be able to respond when the emergency calls are made. In addition, more accountability on the job — better training and regular review of police officers — their actions, behavior, duty and responsibility is very important. And finally, the necessary training, knowledge and experience to properly report and investigate – all together, this represents the full spectrum of accountability.
6. What specific steps would you take to strengthen Hawaii’s lax lobbying, ethics and financial disclosure laws?
Here on Hawaii Island this is more a trickle-down effect from Oahu but it is a real and growing problem — often involving what appears to be clear conflicts of interests that lead to biased and costly decisions to the tax payers of Hawaii. The best example is the multi-billion-dollar rail system in Honolulu. Why do billions of dollars in matching state and federal tax dollars go to a system that serves so few, while our emergency response vehicles and personnel cannot even access many areas in Puna District?
Hawaii’s lax lobbying, ethics and financial disclosure laws have promoted out-of-control state spending – for instance, the current funding for the rail system in Honolulu. Who benefits from the billions of tax dollars wasted?
7. Would you support eliminating Hawaii’s high fees for access to public records when the request is in the public interest?
Yes, public records should be readily and affordably accessible. Plus, public records for each of the islands should be kept, stored and readily available on that individual island, or alternatively via electronic access, and not only in Honolulu. In addition, at least one state public record system needs to be revised and improved – that is the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs. Over the past years we have seen how this vulnerable DCCA business registration system has actually been misused to disrupt business, while the DCCA fails repeatedly to enforce the Hawaii state statute that should secure the system from fraudulent misuse.
8. Voters complain their elected officials don’t listen to them. What would you do to improve communication?
I believe the primary purpose of an elected official is to listen to and represent those that we serve. The Hawaii County Council is in place to represent all the people of our island equally — to protect, preserve and promote public services and infrastructure for all people. We need to get out into our island communities with more talk stories, community gatherings — to listen, so that we can better represent and serve.
9. What more should Hawaii County be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to reefs?
As County Council, we should look at the bigger picture, the cause and effects of climate change are a global concern. Hawaii County is faced with many potential issues, buildings that have been approved and are built at or near sea level and the potential for loss of these structures due to rising sea level. Regarding the reefs, a growing public awareness of how to protect and preserve them, at the same time understanding that rising ocean temperatures due to climate change imbalances an ecosystem like our reefs.
10. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
My greatest concern is for our people. We live on an island where we could be self-sustainable, working with the land and sea. We have now become dependent on the constant flow of shipping containers from the mainland for most of our food, up to 90 percent imported rather than island grown.
Your question, climate change what can we do now? Climate change is the result of life out of balance, rising sea levels will eventually displace large populations, with geo-political and economic change on the horizon. It is time to get back to the basics. It is time to unite our farmers, ranchers, hunters and fishers to feed our people, and to do it malama pono, the right way for a sustainable future in these changing times.