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Editor’s note: 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 Yuki Lei Sugimura, a candidate for Maui County Council (Upcountry). There is one other candidate, Hannibal Starbuck. Both will advance to the Nov. 6 general election.
1. Are changes needed in how the County Council is run, and if so what are they?
The “Sunshine Law” mandates that the Maui County Council is transparent and decisions are made with noticed, public meetings. I believe in this process and find that sometimes this process hinders our ability to attend community meetings if there is more than a quorum of the council present. I would like the Legislature to consider revisions to the Hawaii Revised Statutes to allow council members to attend public meetings and not be in violation of the “Sunshine Law”.
Per the Maui County Charter, council members serve two-year terms, and may serve five consecutive two-year terms. I would support a charter amendment to allow for a four-year council term, and two consecutive terms (eight years). This change would allow us to focus more time on policy work for the community.
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?
The County Council has not reviewed implementation of the 0.5 percent GET surcharge. If implemented, the County of Maui may use this source of new tax dollars to pay for infrastructure and road expansion.
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 Maui Island Plan, Lanai Island Plan and Molokai Island Plan are the guides to ensure that we grow our economy and protect our limited environmental resources. These plans are developed by island residents that participate in the Maui, Molokai and Lanai Community Plan Advisory Committee meetings to review and set the direction for growth, development and preservation of our precious lands. Input from the community is vital to making sure we shape the future of the County of Maui in a way that will allow our hard-working local families to shape their futures while also protecting our precious environmental resources.
4. What would you do, if anything, to strengthen police accountability?
The Police Commission is made up of nine commissioners who are appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the council. The duties of the commission include appointment of the chief of police; review and submit to the mayor the department’s request for annual appropriation for the operation of the department; receive, review, and investigate charges brought forth by the public against the conduct of the department or any of its members; and annually review and evaluate the performance of the chief of police and submit a report to the mayor and council.
To ensure that the Maui Police Department is held accountable, the council should carefully review the mayor’s nominations for appointment to the Police Commission and confirm nominees that are willing to ask the tough questions and uphold high standards.
I would encourage residents to complete the community survey that the department conducts.
5. What specific steps would you take to strengthen Hawaii’s lax lobbying, ethics and financial disclosure laws?
I would like to change the laws to require transparency of super PACs. These PACs should be required to disclose their source(s) of funding, naming contributors and dollar amounts, and disclose the names of candidates they are supporting. Maui County politics has super PAC dollars flowing into our election process with no requirement for transparency.
6. Would you support eliminating Hawaii’s high fees for access to public records when the request is in the public interest?
Fees are established through the budget process for costs associated with duplicating, labor and organizing the requests made to departments and agencies. I support transparency and accountability in government, and am open to reviewing the fee structure to ensure a fair and reasonable fee, and to review an “open data” system.
7. Voters complain their elected officials don’t listen to them. What would you do to improve communication?
Once a month, I set up a table at the Upcountry Farmers Market in Pukalani for constituents to “Talk Story with Yuki Lei.” This allows me to have direct communication with my constituents and to hear from them about their concerns or problems. “Talk Story with Yuki Lei” has been an effective way to communicate with constituents and to keep connected. I also publicize my cell phone number, (808) 870-8047, so I am easily accessible by phone. My office is always open to meet with constituents and I welcome anyone to stop by or call (808) 270-7939 to set up an appointment.
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?
I support establishing an Office of Climate Change, Sustainability and Resilience for the County of Maui. Climate change and sea level rise is an environmental threat affecting our shoreline communities. I believe that this office will place the appropriate focus needed for our island communities.
9. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
The most pressing issue facing my Upcountry Maui district is, “how to keep Upcountry – Upcountry.” Upcountry Maui, on the slopes of majestic Haleakala, are the towns of Pukalani, Kula and Ulupalakua, which are in my district. These towns are mostly agricultural, rural and residential. At one time, sugar and pineapple were predominantly grown in my district. Over the years, we have seen a shift away from these mono crops.
It is imperative to keep agricultural land for our farmers, and not allow development projects that threaten the open space and prime agricultural lands. While our land use planning documents state that agriculture is a priority on these lands, we need to develop policies that support agriculture and facilitate its coexistence with housing needs, make land use decisions that support agricultural production, and provide opportunities to farmers and ranchers with infrastructure and support systems in research and marketing.