First of all a congratulations is in order for the winners. Whether or not I personally voted or supported, or perhaps even opposed your election, you won fair and square and I congratulate you for that achievement. And now you represent, all of us.
To those of you who ran and lost, I offer you my sincerest congratulations as well. You have proven to many that you are not just a talker but that you are willing to put your money and your life where your mouth is. Far too many are willing to criticize, pontificate, and throw rocks from the sidelines, but you are clearly cut from a different cloth.
While I do have a degree of experience, I certainly don’t presume to know it all. So please, I ask that you take the below suggestions, thoughts, and musings in the positive spirit in which they are intended.
Enjoy today, celebrate your win but above all remain humble. Spend whatever time it takes to thank those who helped you, and whose help you will continually need in the future. Personally telephone the handful of key individuals without whose help you most certainly would not have won. At the minimum send notes to all who stood in the hot sun alongside the road with you, and who perhaps knocked on doors with you, or volunteered in other ways. Do more than a generic email or FaceBook post. Take the time to say thank you properly.
Malama your family and close friends, who have in all likelihood worked the hardest and sacrificed the most for you to win.
The public expectations now for you will be high, and you will need to rise to the occasion. Our community needs leaders they can believe in, leaders who they have confidence in, whom they believe are honest and who are working hard on their behalf.
People will be watching you, both in your public role and your private ones. They will be watching and hoping you will look and act like the leader our community deserves. Like it or not, you are now a role model and with this new job comes this new responsibility.
The public scrutiny can be stifling but you must do your best not to let it stifle your willingness to speak out, and to offer new, creative, hopefully bold ideas.
In both your public and your private actions, seek to avoid personally attacking your detractors, showing anger or impatience. Remember you are being watched by children and young adults who are still formulating their values and will be modeling your actions. To be clear, sometimes when verbally pushed, it is necessary to push back. But a metaphorical public shoving match between elected officials, and/or between elected’s and members of the public is demeaning to the institution and to the community.
Return phone calls and email promptly. Constituent service is everything. Resist arguing with people on social media. Be nice to council staff.
Do something. The people did not elect you simply to hold space and vote with the majority. Be proactive and explain to residents what you are doing and why you are doing it.
Stand for something. Resist straddling every single issue, always compelled to meet every issue half way. Halfway is often a place that remains a disservice to people and the planet. There are times when excessive compromise is not in the best interest of the community.
Don’t rely on the verbal promises of landowners, developers, or anyone really. Get their promise and commitment in writing, with dates locked in ensuring performance. The best of intentions go awry over time and memories and the details of promises fade with time and circumstances.
Enroll the community in your efforts, dreams and goals. To pass any significant new public policy initiatives, you must have the communities active support.
Avoid attempting to regulate fireplace smoke, or animal behavior. Trust me on this one. I know from experience, let someone else tackle this one. Don’t go there.
The shaping and approving of the budget is arguably the most important function of council. The budget is a moral document reflecting the communities values. Is there more or less money spent on homelessness, affordable housing, agriculture or tourism?
Too often the council simply takes the budget proposed by the mayor, and then nibbles around the edges of it, cutting a little bit here and adding a little bit there. It does not have to be this way. The council has the power and legal authority to “make the budget their own” and strengthen, expand or reduce any number of programs and projects contained within it.
The council has the power to increase or reduce property taxes, which are based on the “use” of the property. Consequently the council’s taxing authority can be utilized to encourage or discourage various “uses.” The council could increase property taxes on derelict properties to motivate “cleaning them up” (think Coco Palms), they could increase property taxes on “entitled but undeveloped” residential properties to motivate their development into housing (think the large tracts of undeveloped land in central Lihue) etc.
Likewise, the council could decrease property taxes on industrial properties leased to local businesses (providing increased business opportunities), and on residential properties leased to local residents (which is already being done to some extent).
The tax rates on industrial agriculture that does not produce food for local consumption could be increased and the funds used to build infrastructure to support local food producing farms.
The council also holds “land use authority” and the power to increase density and manage growth. This can and should be used thoughtfully and judiciously to the primary benefit of residents and good long term planning.
This power, combined with the property tax authority, combined with the ability of the county to borrow large sums of capital at the lowest rates COULD translate into significant increases in affordable housing within existing urban growth boundaries.
The “could” depends on the capacity the counties elected leadership, for thinking a bit out of the box and being willing to challenge, enroll,and/or push large landowners who for whatever reason are reluctant to move forward aggressively with new affordable housing developments.
In any case, today marks a new dawn and new leadership for Kauai County. While cynics are fond to quote The Who — “Meet the new boss, same as the ole boss,” I personally am optimistic that our newly elected leaders will move forward with integrity and purpose.
Gary Hooser formerly served in the Hawaii State Senate, where he was Majority Leader. He also served for eight years on the Kauai County Council and was the former director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control. He serves presently in a volunteer capacity as board president of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action and is executive director of the Pono Hawaii Initiative.