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 Elle Cochran, a candidate for Maui Mayor. There is one other candidate, Mike Victorino.
1. Are changes needed in how the County Council is run, and if so what are they?
Yes, some change would be beneficial. Specifically: transparency in council organizing, incorporation of a budget process that represents the will of the body and the public, implementation of a biennial budget, a charter amendment to require true term limits (no breaks returning after two years), remote testimony via Skype or FaceTime from home to encourage community participation.
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?
My first preference would be to receive a larger portion of our TAT rather than tax our Maui County residents.
We create a lot of revenue for our state through tourist accommodations annually, and we feel the impacts of the traffic on our beaches, roads, environment and our daily lives. It makes sense that an equitable share should be returned to us, as was originally intended when the TAT was first implemented.
I would also consider raising property taxes on hotels to match the other counties’ rates before taxing our residents. A slight increase of even a couple of cents would generate enough of an upturn to improve a lot of our aging infrastructure.
If we were to implement an increase to the GET surcharge, as a last resort, I would invest in traffic mitigation solutions, roadway repairs and infrastructure upgrades to our aging core utility services. (Water distribution, wastewater reclamation, reuse and distribution.)
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?
We can’t build our way out of the housing crisis unless we first examine and resolve what got us in this situation in the first place. I have done just that for the last three years and am ready to get to work right away.
We first need to focus on building the types of homes this community really needs; truly affordable housing which stays affordable through managed appreciation, so we don’t lose what we heavily subsidize with taxpayer dollars to the market after only 10 years or less.
We can build what we need without impacting our island home if we concentrate on infill areas where infrastructure currently exists.
I’ve identified county-owned parcels that could be used to build apartments, tiny home villages, etc., but it has been challenging to get the Housing Department to move forward on anything. As mayor, I will have that authority and every decision I make is always made with respect for our host culture and our environment.
4. What would you do, if anything, to strengthen police accountability?
I think as mayor, it is important to maintain open lines of communication and to have a good working relationship with all of our core services, especially involving public safety.
Understanding the needs of the MPD, as well as, the needs of the community is equally vital. I feel that I have always had that ability to call the chief and talk about issues or concerns that this community or I have had, and vice versa. Communication is always the best way to find a solution.
Over the years I have grown to understand the value of specialized training for our officers, and how much they gain in both skill and in empathy for unique situations concerning the public. I was an advocate and introduced legislation for both victims’ rights and for special needs identification options for state identification.
I would like to continue to fund specialized training for our officers, as well as, support continued funding for body cams, which were requested years ago by the department. Body cams are a way to protect everyone involved in sometimes dangerous, contentious and stressful situations.
5. What specific steps would you take to strengthen Hawaii’s lax lobbying, ethics and financial disclosure laws?
Accountability and transparency are paramount in government dealings, especially now at a time when the public has lost faith in their leaders. I would be in favor of stricter regulations when conflicts of interest exist, and for removing big money from influencing elections.
Lobbyists have corrupted decision-making and I think it would be a refreshing change to remove that dynamic and let the voice of the people be the only pressure in the room determining the result of a vote.
If there is monetary interest indicating a conflict, involvement should be restricted and the entity should detach them self from attempting to persuade legislators by way of political pressure or financial influence. Council members must recuse themselves if a conflict is present; the same should apply for paid lobbyists for corporations that have a vested interest in the outcome of proposed legislation. (Especially when it’s a matter of the public’s interests and/or the environment vs. corporate financial gain.)
6. Would you support eliminating Hawaii’s high fees for access to public records when the request is in the public interest?
Absolutely, it’s ridiculous how expensive it is to access and retain copies of public information. Even as a council member I have found it incredibly difficult to access documents and in a timely manner. I would be in support of continuing the move toward digitizing our county’s records and allowing the public the ability to access public documents and records on their own, free of charge.
If the information being requested is voluminous or difficult to locate, it might be more reasonable to allow the public to bring in a zip drive or to provide one to them at cost, to transfer the requested files and let them decide if they want to print on their own or not.
It’s better for the environment, less overhead cost to the county, and if it’s not a record that is scanned in as of yet, it will give the department in possession of the record the opportunity to do so, making our files more efficient and accessible for future use.
7. Voters complain their elected officials don’t listen to them. What would you do to improve communication?
This is the reason I first ran for office in 2009 and the reason I am running for higher office now. I always make it a point to listen to all sides of an issue before making a decision, and coming from a background in mediation I try diligently to be fair to all parties involved.
I feel like a lot of the reason the public feels unheard is because the majority of politicians holding office currently are beholden to corporate interests and large land owners in Hawaii. It’s time to elect leaders that are there to serve the general public and that have their best interests in mind.
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?
It’s time to take a serious look at managed retreat and to deal with the hard reality we are facing in the not so distant future. I would like to spearhead a managed retreat master plan for our coastal communities that are already being heavily impacted by rising sea levels, and invest time and energy in implementing the recommendations that come from that study and master plan.
We already have a Beach Management Plan that was never formally adopted, which I am bringing forward this year in hopes of adopting it and proposing future funding strategies to implement the recommendations of that existing plan.
9. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
As mayor, the County of Maui will be my district, and every district in Maui County needs housing and help with our steadily rising homeless challenges. I have spent the last three years formulating an action plan to create housing that is truly affordable for our residents and I plan to hit the ground running as mayor. For the details of my housing plan visit: www.elle4mayor.com/copy-of-platform.