In public administration, there are two kinds of leaders that occupy seats of power.

I first became aware of this distinction as a boy at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, when I attended my father’s outgoing change-of-command ceremony in 1992. His replacement, a lieutenant colonel, took the reins of power as incoming commander of the 633rd Medical Group with the announcement, “I have come to learn in my military career that if you don’t get fired, you’ve done a good job.”

Having remembered how much my family and especially my father sacrificed during our tour at that base, I winced that someone with such a casual, carefree attitude would be replacing us. By contrast, my father, a consummate perfectionist, left his airmen behind with the assurance “I have always strived to leave things better than they were when I found them.”

As Oahu nears the end of the decade, Honolulu’s elected leadership seems content by and large with our city in shambles, as if the fact that they didn’t get fired by the voters must mean they did a good job.

For any prospective candidate for higher office, the duty of leaving Honolulu better than they found it is a must. Consider the condition of our island: Oahu finds itself rocked by corruption and crime; our infrastructure is outdated and crumblingour public spaces are horrendous, and the cost of living for residents is more intolerable than ever.

Our leaders at present must also think that adding value to voters means taking things away from them, as city leaders parade themselves from one press conference to another joyfully extolling the latest thing to be banned, the newest fee to be imposed or the next service to be discontinued.

Downtown Honolulu buildings along Honolulu Harbor with Aloha Tower.
Honolulu government wants to save the world, but can’t seem to cut the grass in public places or keep bathrooms clean in the parks. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Cliché as it may be, Oahu residents need to ask the question are they better off now than they were 10 years ago.

Instead of entering the next decade with star prospects, we see failing infrastructure overseen by a government that wants to save the world, but can’t even keep the grass cut, public park bathrooms clean or trash off the streets.

Plastics may indeed poison the environment and choke sea turtles, but Honolulu leadership is poisoning our future and choking residents out of paradise.

And while locals often deride the state of Hawaii as a morass of incompetence and self-serving narcissism, Honolulu government is so thoroughly vacuous, hubristic and laughably bad that the newest hobby for Oahu residents these days is collecting signatures for impeachment petitions.

You can forget the evil, self-gratifying, greedy Wall Street lifestyle of the fictional Patrick Bateman; author Bret Easton Ellis needs to make a sequel called “Honolulu Psycho” which covers the political careers of our local elected officials and their bizarre delusions of grandeur.

Whenever I get invited to various Honolulu events, I find myself rolling my eyes at how the usual corporations and lobbyists are conveniently at every event, how the same things are always being discussed by politicians with siloed visions of the future, and how everyone in attendance seems to act like hostages in a dysfunctional relationship.

Worse, the federal government seemingly trusts Honolulu government even less than residents do, with multiple investigations in progress, and one can’t help but wonder if our city and county in 2019 is nothing more than a collection of scandals waiting to be exposed.

I for one say thank goodness that there is no monarchy in Hawaii today, because I constantly ask myself how we would be able to stand a lifetime of one leader if we can’t even stand one or two terms of our current ones.

A Wish List For 2020

Our city and island faces a grave crisis of existence with crime, infrastructure, sanitation and the economy. Any one of these problems could and should be solved within a single term of the mayor and City Council, but our leaders have been content to kick these problems down the road while focusing on everything but the situation at hand.

We owe the younger generations a reminder that Hawaii was not always in decline and Honolulu was not always a city in trouble. Starting now, the mayor and City Council need to take a little pride in their offices and work to bring Oahu back to working order.

Maximum political pressure needs to be exerted on stopping the crime wave, now. Our roads need to be fixed or built better, and Honolulu rail needs to stop hanging on the edge of a limb.

Elected leaders need to get out from behind the desk and get out in the community taking note of all the trashed public spaces and heaps of garbage that are aggregating around the island.

Our public servants need to start meeting with hotel workers, teachers, nurses, and other working-class Honolulu residents and learn about the actual lives behind the statistics, because life below the poverty line isn’t business as usual, it’s a humiliation in a country so prosperous as ours.

We need to see results in 2020, not more campaign announcements. Real leadership is about taking initiative and getting things done, not big talk with minor results. We need a rebirth of effective government on Oahu, because the future our keiki inherit is supposed to be better than the way we find it.

That’s a New Year’s resolution worth keeping.

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