Mayor-elect Baptiste: Drug war can be won if island pulls together

LIHU’E – The island’s drug problem is bigger than the mayor, according to the mayor-elect.

It is bigger than the police department, and bigger than the state judicial system, said County Councilmember Bryan Baptiste, who in less than two weeks will be sworn in as mayor.

But, it is not bigger than the island, said Baptiste, who feels a collective effort can make a difference in the local war on drugs.

“We need to give this problem the attention it deserves,” Baptiste told over 30 members of the Lihue Business Association at its monthly meeting yesterday at Hawaiian Classic Desserts on Rice Street here.

Around 80 percent of all the island’s crime is drug-related, and currently there are not enough people focusing on the problem, Baptiste said.

“That’s where the root of most of our problems are now,” with those addicted to drugs needing to steal to raise funds to support their habits, he said.

“It’s a team effort here, guys. This is our problem,” not the KPD’s problem alone, not the judges’ problem, and not government’s problem, but the entire island’s problem, he stressed.

“And we won’t solve it without seeing it that way.”

An important first step he’ll take as mayor is to work as quickly as possible to fill the 18 existing vacancies in the Kauai Police Department.

“We can’t do anything without the manpower.”

Baptiste was the guest speaker at the LBA monthly meeting, but spoke only briefly before opening up the floor for comments and questions from members and guests.

“I need your direction and your ideas.”

A member of the audience asked what the new mayor might be able to do to encourage better customer service from public servants.

Baptiste said 85 percent to 90 percent of county employees want to do a good job, but need to know how to do that. Leadership has to walk the walk, too, he added, playing a key role in helping to “activate their hearts and minds to be part of the solution.”

That starts by letting county workers know that they’ll be listened to, that their ideas are important and significant. “Because there are great minds there, too. I believe you have to change the way we’re doing things,” and empower employees to be part of the solution, to look for solutions instead of identifying problems.

“I’m not saying there’s no dead wood in the county,” but to get around the problems to the solutions requires making all county employees parts of solutions, he continued.

Showing employees that they’re listened to is something of a reward for starters, he added.

The art of listening must also be practiced by government leaders where the general public is concerned as well, Baptiste said, continuing a theme from his mayoral campaign.

“Government gotta start listening” to the people, or county government won’t be able to help move the county forward. Government must adopt a “‘we-can’ attitude,” he said.

To ensure citizen input in county decision-making, Baptiste said he will assign a community to each of his appointed department heads, and it will be part of their jobs to go out and meet with members of their assigned communities once a month.

The forums must be open enough so people won’t be afraid to ask questions and voice opinions, or worried their ideas will be scorned or ignored.

Professional facilitators will be hired for these meetings, he said. There will be one rule for community participation, said Baptiste: If you come with a problem, come with a solution, or stay home.

Through this process, government by working with citizens and organizations like churches, schools, and business and social organizations, will be able to recognize concerns, prioritize concerns, and come up with action plans.

As an example, Baptiste talked about the annual county road-paving program. Now, county officials tell citizens which roads will get paved. He’ll work to implement a system where county officials will ask citizens which roads need paving.

Through his experience with the county’s Ho’olokahi community-volunteer program, he knows people want to participate, and figures that same kind of public participation in other matters can have a positive, profound impact on delivery of county services.

Getting community “buy-in” of projects and priorities might take more up-front time, but will result in informed, involved citizens, greater acceptance of projects and plans, and less headaches and disagreements at ends of projects, he said.

“I hope you folks will be willing to help,” he told those at the LBA meeting.

Initially, he asked every citizen to spend 15 minutes a day thinking about how to better the island community.

His promise to take down the reserved parking signs in the Lihu’e Civic Center parking lot now mostly for county employees drew applause from the audience.

“I guess I gotta walk farther to get to work, but I guess I could use it.”

Baptiste said he wants to work with the Kaua’i Island Utility Cooperative to help reduce the island’s dependence on imported oil, and further to look at reviving the old Lihue Plantation mill power plant so that it can continue burning bagasse and other biomass to generate electricity.

Bagasse is a biofuel and byproduct of sugar harvesting.

A new radio station on the island, 98.1 FM, sponsored Wednesday’s LBA meeting.

Staff Writer Paul C. Curtis can be reached at mailto:pcurtis@pulitzer.net or 245-3681 (ext. 224).

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