Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Aug. 8 Primary 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 Bob Fitzgerald, candidate for Hawaii County mayor. Other candidates include Neil Azevedo, Paul Bryant, Michael Glendon, Robert Greenwell, Stacy Higa, Wendell Ka’ehu’ae’a, Yumi Kawano, Harry Kim, Ikaika Marzo, Mitch Roth, Mike Ruggles, Ted Shaneyfelt, Tante Urban and Lahi Verschuur.
1. Hawaii’s economy has been hard hit with the outbreak of the coronavirus and measures to prevent its spread, mainly because of the collapse of the tourism industry. Should we continue to rely largely on the visitor industry for economic vitality? What concrete steps would you take to bring tourism back? What else would you do to diversify the island’s economy?
Let the local island hopper come back, we sometimes forget we have 1.2 million people on Oahu who won’t be taking their families to the mainland. Let’s jump-start this market. Our island has a wide range of local families that love the Big Island experience. Secondly work with the committed absentee owner to come back to their second home, solid owners that care for this island, we know they’ll do the necessary COVID-19 testing and quarantine (if necessary) to come “home.” The timeshare owner who owns here on this Island (same reasons).
To diversify, obviously our farmers have a huge market 1.2 million people on Oahu. Our research and development team needs to work closer with the marketing of our farm exports, and of course maximize what we can produce locally too. Emphasis on diversify products that can be shipped or sold to foreign and mainland markets. We have many fresh ideas on products that can be wanted elsewhere, let my administration work with the county’s research and development team to help them. Once established and successful, get out of the way and let them enjoy their success.
Regarding medical, encourage University of Hawaii and other universities to partner with us in nursing, medical tech, clean sciences, oceanography and other future employment necessities. We’re looking for educating our students, restructuring the unemployed workforce, and other clean solid businesses of the future. Why can’t we be a medical magic island of the future, look what Dr Earl Bracken did here. How about a new hospital and research center in the Kona-Kealakehe area and the same in Keaau?
2. As the economy struggles, the county may have to cut expenses and seek new revenue sources. What would you cut? And what is an area where you see potential new revenue?
I would cut management positions or institute furloughs for my administration’s deputy and director positions, I will not cut any of our general workforce wages or hours. Our county’s only real source of revenue is property taxes, I would still fight for our fair portion of TAT funds from the state but I would get creative on the absentee owners property tax, a volunteer tax above the requirement that an individual property tax owner can give specially to the program or interest that they want. Line item it to a particular cause.
Reach out to our “bigs” on this island that have other resources to help our beautiful island. We have very smart influential success stories here, and we need to have local government partner with them.
3. What would you have done differently to handle the coronavirus crisis on the Big Island?
I would have closed down earlier and would have been more passionate in opening sooner. I thought the communication system for the mayor to the general public was awful. My brother-in-law back in December almost died from the virus. I new It was coming and knew it could be brutal.
Also, I would have kept timeshare and Airbnb’s open for local island use, a quarantine was not in affect for our own island residents.
4. State and county residents, government officials and developers have been split over efforts to build the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea. Do you support construction of the TMT? Do you support the protesters? What would you have done differently in the past year to resolve the issue?
I am in favor of astronomy and outside development coming to our island, but I do not favor something that will tear our local island residents apart. The protesters were hula halau, aunties, uncles, keiki, Hawaiian emergent school kids and people from all over the world.
I know that most of the protectors (protestors) were not at the public approval meetings in regards to the building of TMT in 2006, but they are here now. First, we need to sit down and listen. Make a commitment to get the non-working scopes down. Make a better financial arrangement for our youth.
I also do not support using our limited county property tax dollars, especially with no state TAT tax going to our county. We cannot bail out the State of Hawaii, UH, DLNR and Hawaiian Homelands on the mismanagement of Mauna Kea summit.
I have confidence in my leadership skills and will strongly ask to be present at all future meetings. As your mayor I will make the tough calls in order to make the right decisions.
5. Homelessness remains a problem statewide, including on Hawaii island. What would you do to come to grips on this persistent problem?
Keep affordable housing in a land bank, either holding the property title, construction note or sell as leasehold. This will guarantee that property cannot be transferred/sold before allowable timeline and restrictions. The property remains as affordable housing as it was originally designed/designated.
The current housing coalition must move forward to build additional housing. We must be creative by considering more condos, apartments and townhouses. This will provide more living spaces per square foot of land. Work with local housing developments/developers with lease option to buy programs. Offer developers creative tax breaks and incentives. Big landowners like Bishop Estate and Queen Liliuokalani Trust already have systems in place. Work with the Hawaii Home Lands to help them move forward to get developments done. This too will help to reduce local demand.
Currently one of the major issues for developers is the permitting process. This is a simple fix and can be done quickly with my leadership. As your mayor I will to go the table with real estate leaders, developers, the current housing coalition and community leaders to expedite the building process so that homelessness and the affordable housing issues can be resolved. We as leaders in the industry must work together for a better future, a better future for our entire island. “One island one heart.”
6. Recent deaths of citizens at the hands of police are igniting protests and calls for reform across the country, primarily aimed at preventing discrimination against people of color. Do you see this issue as a problem in Hawaii County? What should be done to improve policing and police accountability on the Big Island? Should oversight of the police department be strengthened or reformed?
I believe Hawaii is an example for all of the United states to learn from, we have always been a melting pot for race and cultures to co-exist. I believe in our local law enforcement, the training and general integrity of the department. We have recently passed funds for every officer to wear a cam recorder.
I was a longtime football coach and many, many officers have played a sport. I truly believe this island closeness to the community keeps us as the top department in the state.
7. Hawaii’s public records law mandates that public records be made available whenever possible. Gov. David Ige suspended the open government laws under an emergency order during the pandemic. Do you agree or disagree with his action? What would you do to ensure the public has access to open meetings and public records in a timely fashion?
Transparency, transparency, yes government needs to be open. With all the social media out there things will only back fire if you don’t have an open-door policy. Once you lose trust, you lose the ability to change.
8. What more should Hawaii County be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?
We need to revisit waste to energy, this is big on my list. The technology is better, we can RFP to privatize. We absolutely can’t keep trucking our trash across the island — what a terrible carbon footprint that is. We have to look at the long haul. Waikoloa landfill can last a long time but not if we don’t commit to a waste-to-energy solution. Our kids and grandkids deserve it.
I will also privatize all our county’s recyclables; in the bid process my administration will work with the recycling companies to have a bid that is fair and equitable to all sides even in tight times. Zoning in shoreline areas has already been addressed. I believe in working better with DLNR and State of Hawaii to monitor the breakdown of our reefs.
9. The coronavirus pandemic has exposed numerous flaws in Hawaii’s structure and systems, from outdated technology to economic disparity. If you could take this moment to reinvent Hawaii, to build on what we’ve learned and create a better state, a better way of doing things, what would you do? Please share One Big Idea you have for Hawaii. Be innovative, but be specific.
State and county agencies need to work together better, I have always felt like it’s two very separate governments not working for the same constituents when in fact it is the same taxpayer. The DOE with Parks, state roads with county roads, state housing with local housing, etc. I could go on. We need more certified kitchens for preparing food moving toward more food substantiality. Whoa, guess what, almost every DOE school on Hawaii Island has a certified kitchen that could be used all weekend long to prep food from our farmers. Creative and simple and same taxpayer.
10. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing the Big Island? What will you do about it?
Recovery from COVID-19 most likely will trump all right now, so that recovery process first before we can move on. (Cure, vaccination, then we can really move forward.) I mentioned in question No. 1 that my mission is to bridge the gaps around our island, have many community forums in every area. Listen, assign my crossover departments to A-team jobs that we can get done in two days to six months, a B-team to get those jobs done in my administration’s term, and a C-team of crossover departments that will leave issues and plans better for the next mayor.
First step besides our building permit process is revamping our bus and transportation system, it’s in total disarray. I have a full new innovated plan bringing private enterprise combined with all our county vehicles into a very unique people-mover program.