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 Keani Rawlins-Fernandez, a candidate for Maui County Council (Molokai). There are two other candidates, Cora Caparida-Schnackenberg and Stacy Crivello.
1. Are changes needed in how the County Council is run, and if so what are they?
The County Council will benefit by increasing public engagement, ensuring more professionalism in the operations by adopting the county manager model, and making the budget process more efficient.
• Support wider public engagement: Increasing public engagement must start with making participation easier. Simple measures, such as employing existing technology that enables the council to accept testimony via video call from wherever the person is helps. The multiple barriers to testimony include geography, work hours, and mobility. Video testimony would be especially helpful to those residing on Molokai, Lanai, and areas far from Wailuku; those with jobs prohibiting in-person testimony during work, such as teachers and firefighters; and our elderly community, who cannot readily leave their homes.
• Adopt a professional manager model: County manager will help by ensuring the most qualified person is hired, depoliticizing the position, and providing continuity and consistency for our county operations.
• Revamp the budget process: Every year, the council takes a month and a half to focus on the budget. All other business gets sidelined until the budget is completed. Since amendments are made to the budget throughout the year anyway, it makes sense to move to biennial budgeting, like the state Legislature.
2. The Legislature has authorized Maui 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?
I would support the implementation of a 0.5 percent GET surcharge for the three important highway projects needing funding to address the quality of life for many Maui residents. Traffic has become a serious problem in West Maui, East to Central Maui, and in Kihei. This additional surcharge will help the county raise $440,000,000 to improve the highways in these areas. It will finish the Lahaina Bypass, build the Paia Bypass, and complete the North-South Collector Road.
While I recognize that the GE tax is a more regressive tax, it would only be an additional $8 per month, for someone with an annual income of $20,000. This surcharge would end after 11 years, or sooner, if we are able to secure funding from the state or federal governments.
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?
It is imperative that we stop framing economic development and environmental protection as competing interests, and begin to explore and invest in more ways that economic development complements our environment. The aina can certainly survive without the economy, our economy, and our people, cannot survive without our aina.
Our county community plans prioritize protection of our aina. In our Molokai Community Plan, we suggest the creation of a traditional land use overlay, an inventory survey of archaeological sites, and important natural and cultural areas. The TLU overlay acts as a map that aims to proactively protect these areas. It recognizes these areas as intact cultural complexes and landscapes, instead of looking at it as one heiau or one house platform.
The benefit of this TLU overlay is that it could prevent a developer from investing in Environmental Impact Studies and Environmental Assessments, which take a lot of time with a huge upfront cost. By incorporating a TLU Overlay, it saves developers and community members from getting into long, drawn out battles.
4. What would you do, if anything, to strengthen police accountability?
I support continuing the accountability measures currently established by the Maui Police Department. In 2017, the MPD required patrol officers to wear body cameras for both their protection and anyone with whom they interact. Some patrol vehicles also have cameras. Tracking devices are installed in their CB radios and the computer in patrol vehicles to monitor their location.
The MPD is required to submit an annual report to the Legislature and council. This legislative oversight helps hold the department accountable. The MPD is also accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, which qualifies them for federal grant opportunities and requires adherence to accountability measures.
The community’s voice in MPD matters also helps with accountability and transparency. Steps that will encourage more participation are to continue holding Maui Police Commission meetings at the college or community centers, instead of the MPD Chief’s Conference Room, which can be intimidating, coupled with protection of individuals who participate.
In our Molokai Community Plan, we encourage more patrol officers on foot and bike, with the focus on building relationships, like they did in years past. It becomes a different dynamic when you’re accountable to people with whom you have relationships.
5. What specific steps would you take to strengthen Hawaii’s lax lobbying, ethics and financial disclosure laws?
The state and county have laws that regulate lobbyists, and both basically operate using the honor system. The Maui County Board of Ethics does not actively monitor hearings.
The list of county lobbyists is available online on the Board of Ethics’ website. It contains three and a half pages of names from 2000 to 2017, with a total of one lobbyist registered in 2017, and none in 2018. Unlike the state rules that require lobbyists to file expenditure reports three times a year, Maui County does not require financial disclosures or expenditures reports. (Maui County Code 04-101-40 and 04-101-90)
The specific steps needed to strengthen our county laws are to require lobbyist expenditures report quarterly, provide registration and reporting forms online with e-signature submission to encourage compliance, to have this information accessible to the public online, and enforce these rules by adding penalties for noncompliance. I would support the allocation of funding to carry out this work by staff and funding for an independent attorney to provide legal counsel to the board.
6. Would you support eliminating Hawaii’s high fees for access to public records when the request is in the public interest?
Yes, if the requested public records are in the public interest, I would support waiving the administrative portion of the fee. The portion of the fee is the cost of paper, which I would support allowing residents to supply the department its own paper, and would also help to deter anyone attempting to abuse this system.
Moving toward more electronic files will also help to address this issue. We should support increasing access to public records and eliminating high costs.
7. Voters complain their elected officials don’t listen to them. What would you do to improve communication?
I’m running for County Council because we need a more accessible and responsive government to immediately address the affordable housing crisis and to strengthen our economy, while maintaining all that make our islands so special – particularly our environment and culture.
Community members consistently share their discontent about not being heard by government. This issue can be addressed by improving the two-way communication between government and community and offering more education on effective participation.
The council can support meaningful engagement by creating a public access room, like that of the Legislature, tasked with the kuleana of being a community resource, creating participation guides, and providing workshops on navigating the council website, accessing information, and testifying.
We need to make public participation easier, as outlined in Question No. 1.
I would require quarterly district town halls to help community members stay informed and hold their council members accountable.
8. What more should Maui County be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?
Climate change will bring more intense hurricanes, stronger earthquakes and tsunamis, extreme floods, and sea level rise, which we have already been seeing or experiencing. We must act now to reduce imminent damage of biological and man-made systems. Proper strategizing requires the compilation of appropriate data that will inform our decisions on how and where to use adaptation strategies such as retreat, accommodation, and protection. We must develop better emergency response systems with well- defined and mapped evacuation routes and build Red Cross-approved shelters.
To protect our environment and indigenous culture, we must stop permitting the temporary fix of shoreline armoring. We should, instead, integrate traditional ecological knowledge-based coastal hazards information into county planning procedures and complete an archive of kupuna’s knowledge of traditional hazard mitigation practices. One practice we can employ today is the planting of more native coastal plants proven to hold the sand, like hinahina.
Planning ahead, we should increase the shoreline setback farther than 150 feet. The protection and restoration of natural systems, such as wetlands and dunes, will help to mitigate flooding and support climate change adaptation. We need a phased plan to prepare us for the cost of relocating critical structures and roadways.
9. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
The most pressing underlying issue facing Molokai is the lack of notification, education, and information to help the public participate. Empowering our community’s voice will help to ensure that the symptoms of this problem are addressed. These symptoms include issues like a lack of affordable housing, proper management of our environmental resources, appropriate planning, and a need for more job creation.
Molokai is geographically disconnected from the two primary places where decisions are made on our behalf, Maui and Oahu. For this reason, it’s even more important that our community be given more opportunities to receive information on all proposed projects/programs, and provide input.