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Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Nov. 6 General Election, 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 Norma Doctor Sparks, a candidate for Kauai County Council. There are 13 other candidates, including Kanoe Ahuna, Arthur Brun, Mason Chock, Felicia Cowden, Billy DeCosta, Juno Ann Apalla, Luke Evslin, Shaylene Iseri, Ross Kagawa, Arryl Kaneshiro, Kipukai Kuali’i, Adam Roversi and Milo Spindt.
1. The April flooding demonstrated some homes and infrastructure are particularly vulnerable to heavy rain. Should this change the county’s approach to development, and if so, how?
Yes, the county’s approach to development after disasters has to change even though Kauai’s people are resilient. The April flood should be viewed as more than an act of God. I think the flooding was most likely affected by a combination of torrential rainfall, a vulnerable location, and development that did not account for a changing flood risk. The North Shore has had a long history of Hanalei River flooding its banks but the overwhelming rainfall and waterfalls flowing from the mountains had not been experienced before.
Usually, history is relied on to determine future flood risk but climate change and the physical changes that were made to the communities have to also be taken into account in the County’s approach to development. Going forward, the county has to take a proactive approach. The county should conduct hazard and vulnerability assessments, update them more regularly, and use those assessments to approve the rebuilding of damaged homes or new developments after disasters anywhere on the island. The county must have certain code and zoning requirements for properties that are damaged in a disaster to mitigate similar destruction to homes and infrastructure in the future.
2. Are changes needed in how the County Council is run, and if so what are they?
Yes, the County Council’s conduct should change in the following areas: improved communication with the public and increased expert support in budget and finance. The County Council should improve communication between council members and the public. Council members should be able to reasonably ask clarifying questions of persons who testify before the council. As much as possible, council questions for testifying county employees who represent county agencies should be provided ahead of the council meetings.
In addition, the Ccuncil should establish minimum “office hours” for its members to meet privately with the public to discuss their personal issues. The amount of time that each council member is available to meet with the public is left up to the individual council member. Presently, it may take almost four weeks to have an appointment with some council members. Further, the council’s main responsibility is to oversee the county’s budget. The council should also have at least two staff persons who have in-depth training and experience with government budgets to provide council members with the expertise to evaluate county budgets.
3. Kauai County recently implemented a 0.5 percent GET surcharge for public transportation. Do you support this decision? Why or why not?
I do not support the 0.5 percent GET surcharge because I believe the county has not used the funds already available from the county’s Highway Fund and from the county’s operational budget. It is unclear if the county has appropriately used the Highway Fund in previous and present fiscal years as required by state law. In FY14, the county collected $4,518,532 when the fuel tax rate was $0.15 per gallon. The county fuel tax rate for FY15 was $0.17 per gallon. In FY16, however, the county’s Public Works only preserved, improved, renovated or resurfaced less than eight miles of local roads!
At the same time, each year, county departments have not spent about $10 million of county budgeted items in the operational budget and the County Council has reallocated those funds to other uses not related to the roads, bridges, and public transportation and not considered high priority because the council did not include those uses in the regular budget. So while the council has represented that the 0.5 percent GET surcharge was urgently needed to provide funding for roads, bridges, and public transportation, the council’s handling of the county’s budget does not support that urgency.
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?
One of my top issues is balancing the growth of tourism on Kauai and the strain on public infrastructure. I believe that a balance is needed to protect the needs of local residents while also providing the visitor industry the support it needs. I understand the importance of preserving our way of life and country lifestyle by not overdeveloping our roads or infrastructure, but at the same time I am reasonable about needed upgrades and solutions to address traffic congestion and plan for the future.
I would discuss and negotiate with the owners of plantation roads to reduce the traffic issues island wide. As a child of a plantation worker, I remember the many excursions throughout the island on wide and safe roads owned by the plantations. I also want to engage the tourist industry in identifying ways to increase better transportation alternatives for tourists such as shuttle buses.
5. What would you do, if anything, to strengthen police accountability?
To some extent, the Kauai County Police Department has already implemented two areas that strengthen police accountability. They have distributed body cameras to officers and also submitted reports to the state Legislature on incidents of police misconduct. However, the names of the individual police officers have not been identified. Numerous unsuccessful attempts have been made to identify the officers in the reports. To strengthen police accountability, the names of the individual police officers should be identified. Another way to strengthen police accountability is to include the requirement that police provide Miranda warnings prior to conducting a consensual search.
6. What specific steps would you take to strengthen Hawaii’s lax lobbying, ethics and financial disclosure laws?
In 2016, Kauai County established a comprehensive lobbying law that requires full financial disclosure of both legislative and administrative expenditures. Lobbyists must now register with the Office of the County Clerk. Hawaii state’s lobbying, ethics and financial disclosure laws should be amended to include the language found in Kauai’s disclosure laws.
7. Would you support eliminating Hawaii’s high fees for access to public records when the request is in the public interest?
Yes, high fees are a barrier to access to public records when the request is in the public interest.
8. Voters complain their elected officials don’t listen to them. What would you do to improve communication?
If I were elected to the County Council, I would be available to meet with the public to discuss their concerns during office hours. I also would set quarterly meetings in parts of Kauai to listen to their concerns.
9. What more should Kauai County be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?
Kauai County should consider a worst case scenario of the impact of higher sea level and loss of sand. Local decision-makers should consider the sea level rise when designing and approving projects such as hospitals, waste water treatments, coastal highways and other situations where public health and safety would be at risk. The county should also expect that a hurricane will make direct landfall and tsunamis will continue to arrive in Hawaii under conditions of a higher sea level and prudently plan.
10. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
I would like to see an economy that would provide young people with sustainable wages that would allow them to buy affordable houses and support their families on Kauai. In order to meet these needs, educational opportunities for young people would need to be developed beginning in middle school so that more young people would continue their education beyond high school to earn a college degree or vocational certification in areas of jobs that are available on Kauai.
I would facilitate discussions among the middle schools, high schools, Kauai Community College, and the University of Hawaii to work together to provide degrees or certificates that would meet the demand of companies. The county should do more to facilitate the creation of jobs that would pay more than minimum wage and perhaps be located throughout Kauai, not just in Lihue, to decrease the need for residents to drive to jobs far from their homes.
With the technology available today, many long-distance jobs are available and could be developed for Kauai residents. I would work with the county’s Human Services to explore the development of jobs that could be located in towns outside of Lihue.