LIHU’E – County Councilmember Bryan Baptiste promises “a different type of government than what you’re used to,” if he is elected mayor in less than a month.
Council Chair Ron Kouchi says that with the retirement of many county employees scheduled for the end of this year, the next mayor will have the opportunity to “make fundamental changes in the way county government operates.”
At a candidate forum sponsored by The Garden Island newspaper at the Kauai Veterans Center Tuesday night, the two mayoral candidates outlined short- and long-range plans for the island, should they be elected.
Both said they plan to implement changes in the way county government functions, with Baptiste saying his department heads will go out into the community to listen to neighborhood concerns about roads, drugs, youth programs and other issues, and come up with community-specific programs to address community-specific concerns.
County government now is “top-down,” with citizens at the bottom of a pyramid. The pyramid needs to be turned upside down, so the people are on top, and come first, Baptiste said.
Without a structural change in the way county business is conducted, no real change in any other area will be possible, Baptiste said.
Kouchi’s idea is to get more funds to revise community development plans more neighborhood-specific than the island-wide General Plan. As a councilmember, he helped secure funds to update both the North Shore Development Plan and Wailua-Kapa’a Development Plan, he said.
Further, Kouchi proposes to bring communities together with professional facilitators, and determine desired outcomes and action plans, in matters like growth and quality-of-life issues.
The next mayor will have a great opportunity to reform the way county does business, and sharpen its mission to serve residents, Kouchi said.
Both candidates also see the General Plan as an important document in guiding the island’s long-term future, and pointed to their abilities to bring people together to plan for a future Kaua’i where children will be able to return for meaningful jobs after going away to college.
For a longer-range vision, Kouchi takes a cue from his seventh-grade son Dan, who advises his dad to get out of the younger generation’s way and let them solve the problems anticipated in the island’s future.
Ron Kouchi pointed out a growing gap between the wealth of newer residents and long-time residents, something that if left un-addressed could escalate into something of a “civil war.”
The real property tax rates of long-time residents shouldn’t be pushed up because of newcomer upscale development, he feels.
Finally, it’s not a good legacy to be leaving to the next generation the Kekaha Landfill as the island’s tallest structure, Kouchi said.
Baptiste’s long-range plan for the island starts with his cooperative, solution-oriented style, which advocates against taking sides and in favor of working together to address both short- and long-range concerns.
In one specific area, Baptiste feels that defining specifically differences between agricultural subdivisions and rural residential subdivisions can go a long way toward protecting farmers and agricultural land and discouraging residential sprawl.
The two candidates had slightly different views when asked by TGI reporters what will be the top problem facing the next mayor.
Baptiste said the right to return for children of the island is the key issue, while Kouchi said quality of life and growth issues are crucial, as well as finding a long-term solution to the island’s solid-waste problem.
Kouchi said he favors a planned incinerator for trash at the Gay & Robinson, Inc. sugar mill in Kaumakani, especially since recent county experience has led him to conclude that no one on the island wants a new landfill near where they live.
Another question concerning what they would do as mayor to help provide jobs for the island’s young people drew wide-ranging ideas.
Kouchi said he helped establish the West Kauai Technology & Visitors Center in Waimea, which was the start of what in around a year could be some 90,000 square feet of space occupied by high-technology businesses on the island.
Instilling in young people the desire to dream big, encouraging them to study hard and excel in their chosen field, are important strategies, too, Kouchi continued.
Jobs for people other than those with engineering degrees are needed, too, so the high-tech industry’s plan to establish production facilities on the island will mean non-engineering jobs, Kouchi said.
Finding solutions to the island’s solid-waste situation will create jobs, too, he said.
Today’s children and young adults have a tremendous variety of choices and opportunities, so it’s up to the leaders of today to make sure there are good choices of places to work and live on the island of their birth, if they desire, he added.
Baptiste said tourism remains the strongest leg of the island’s economy, and that the visitor dollar can be enhanced by promoting the island as a place welcoming and accessible to those in wheelchairs and others with disabilities.
Expanding the island’s health and wellness tourism opportunities will encourage visitors to stay longer and spend more money on the island, while at the same time expanding job opportunities in health and wellness fields, Baptiste added.
The island’s high-technology infrastructure must be improved, and the island’s new leader should encourage diversified agriculture that can develop higher-yielding crops, he said.
Further, Baptiste sees a pharmaceutical industry in the island’s future, and wants to be a leader in establishing an alternative-energy economy on the island.
Millions of dollars a year flow off of Kaua’i for purchase of oil to generate electricity, Baptiste said.
And leaders who encourage development of biomass, photovoltaic, hydroelectric, wind and other alternative forms of energy-generation ensure that some of that money can stay on the island, where residents and businesses enjoy a multiplier effect each time the money is spent and re-spent, Baptiste continued.
It’s a part of his plan to make the island less dependent on outside sources, for energy and other needs, he added.
Kouchi concluded his remarks by stating he feels the mayor must be at the forefront in helping the island’s nonprofit agencies. He also applauded his political opponents for running clean campaigns based on mutual respect and talking positively about themselves, and thanked fellow Councilmember Randal Valenciano for his support.
Kouchi said the hardest thing he has ever had to do is ask people to vote for him, and thanked the people of Kaua’i for not voting him out of office after one or two terms on the County Council.
Finally, Kouchi thanked the various unions for their endorsements and support, which he said shows the unions feel he cares about employees. The Sierra Club endorsement shows he cares for the island’s environment, he said.
Over 200 people turned out for the forum, which also marked the first time all 14 candidates for County Council were together for a single public forum.
Staff Writer Paul C. Curtis can be reached at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org or 245-3681 (ext. 224).