Kusaka says Baptiste needs to present his vision for visitor industry

Current Mayor Maryanne Kusaka said the island’s visitor industry is uncertain about Mayor-elect Bryan Baptiste’s vision for the industry that provides the most jobs and revenue for Kaua’i.

“I think that the visitor industry here, even, is not too clear with what his goals are,” Kusaka said of Baptiste.

“As far as being partners with the visitor industry, I know that they are very much concerned, and want that to happen, that they continue to have a good relationship with the county, as they’ve experienced over these last eight years,” she said.

Baptiste said he plans to meet with Hawaii Hotel Association Kaua’i officials, and other visitor-industry leaders, but has been too busy assembling his cabinet to schedule that meeting.

“I’m hoping to meet with the Hawaii Hotel Association and visitor industry (officials) to discuss goals and objectives,” said Baptiste, adding that he hasn’t formulated a visitor-industry plan for his administration.

“But, I would like to put more emphasis on the destination,” improving county parks and other county facilities visitors and residents both enjoy, he said.

He said he is looking forward to sitting down with the island’s tourism leaders, but hasn’t had the chance yet.

Kusaka offered some experienced advice.

“You know, times change. Certainly we need to keep courting the visitors to come here,” said Kusaka.

“But I think the biggest thing now is to keep enhancing the relationships that we have formed, in Japan with our sister cities.

“We have so many wonderful programs we never had before, with additional student exchanges, with all kinds of things,” Kusaka said.

“Them coming every year to visit us, the groups getting larger, and the people from here going to visit Japan, because it surely has to be a two-way street,” she said.

“I know that Bryan is a bit unfamiliar with that, and maybe a bit uncomfortable, I don’t know,” she said.

The new mayor has asked the current mayor to help him with the annual Agenosha High School visit, and Kusaka will do that as a citizen volunteer, she said.

In an exclusive interview that may have been her last as mayor, Kusaka also said Baptiste may need to be patient as his plans to restructure some county departments and offices move through approval phases.

“He’s reworking this Office of Community Response and including the Office of Economic Development, so until he has all those plans written and approved, the changes approved by the council, I don’t think too much will happen there,” she said.

“I mean, there’s a process he has to go through there. They have to do a lot of job-description reviews and maybe revisions. That’s quite a process,” said Kusaka, the voice of experience after formulating the Offices of Community Assistance and including housing, transportation and elderly affairs under one mini-department.

“You have to have it blessed by the attorneys, and then up to council, and that’s two months in getting it heard and described, so it’ll be awhile,” she added.

Back to the tourism front for a moment, Kusaka said Baptiste should forge relationships as she enjoyed with the Japanese and Philippine consulates on O’ahu.

“I have a great relationship with the Japanese consulate on O’ahu, the Philippine consulate, and I think Bryan needs to continue opening those doors, because they really help in creating greater community understanding between our communities that live here, the Filipino community, the Japanese community,” she said.

“So I think those are all very important things to be involved in,” Kusaka said. “I would like to see our kids have an opportunity to travel to Japan on a student exchange in the same manner that they do when they come here.”

Overall, she feels she is leaving the county in Baptiste’s capable hands.

“I really feel I’m entrusting all of our hard work” in Baptiste’s hands, and that he’ll take the ball and run with it, Kusaka said.

“I think Bryan will take all of our hard work up to the next level,” she said.

“Bryan, of course, is or new mayor. He started out with me, in 1994, and really proved to me that he was a hard worker and a committed person, and that he follows through with things he starts out to do,” Kusaka said.

“He helped to make the vision which we discussed, of Ho’olokahi, become very effective in the community. As you know, we were in the hole, financially, so we couldn’t do all the things we wanted to do, and we thought about how we could engage the community in making the place the kind of Kaua’i we want it to be, really the garden island,” she said.

“Because he did that, I feel that he will follow through and do a great job on what his vision is, his own particular vision. And I’m also really delighted that he and I have followed through with this legacy that we have of providing more access along the shorelines, always with that vision in mind,” Kusaka said.

“I had asked the Hugheses if they would contribute that beautiful shoreline to the community, and all of Kealia Beach, and of course what we have helped to happen at Lydgate with the help of all of those wonderful volunteers,” said Kusaka.

“Those are things that I’m so confident that Bryan will follow through on, that will enrich our community in many ways,” she said.

“We had to do a lot of things to recover from the hurricane, so the first four years was really restoring our economy, restoring the island to its previous state, getting rid of old lawsuits, I mean just cleaning up what was left” by the previous administration of former Mayor and current County Councilmember JoAnn Yukimura, said Kusaka.

“And the second four years we’ve been able to really do some performance. By then, we had gotten a lot of grants, our economy was starting to turn around, and we were able to do much more with lifeguards to provide more public health and safety, with police equipment, with providing the fire department with all the equipment that they needed,” she said.

“All of our vision became a reality, just really pulled together this last year with the new police facility, all of the grants we got to build, for example, the transportation baseyard, and really enhance our beaches and the public services we provide.

“So, it’s made me very happy. And now Bryan can take that all to the next level, and consolidate and move forward,” she said.

“And I think he can do that. He can do a good job of that. I think Bryan’s real vision is to include more of the community, certainly than we did,” she said.

“We were so busy trying to get rid of the DSRs (disaster service requisitions) and trying to make it so that we’d come out even and not have to owe any money back to the federal government,” she said of her first four years.

Kusaka refers to post-hurricane accounting of federal payments for rebuilding public facilities, after Hurricane ‘Iniki in 1992. That took a lot of the administration’s time and attention during her first term, she said.

“But we finished that, came out nicely, so we were able to move forward these last four years. I’m really grateful for that,” Kusaka said.

“I think that Bryan will be very good. Now he has an opportunity to work directly with the community. It’s a slow process, but I think he will make it work. And I wish him lots and lots of luck,” said Kusaka.

This week, outgoing and incoming cabinet members exchanged transitional documents at Kusaka’s regular Monday department-head meeting.

Earlier, Baptiste said he asked Kusaka to prepare a list of projects that she would like him to continue working on.

“There are some technical things, and there are some wish-list things,” including remodeling the former Gem store location into county office space, Kusaka continued.

The construction bid was expected to go out this week. “I know that he will continue and move that forward.

“That’s going to be a big issue, you know, we always wanted to centralize government, and that’s our last piece in the puzzle,” Kusaka said.

“And I’ve been disappointed that those plans have taken so long, and part of the problem was we didn’t have all of the funding. And the council wanted us to wait until this new budget cycle, which began in July, so that delayed our bid process at least six to eight months.

“That will be coming on board, and that’ll be a whole year of construction, I’m sure. We’ve just gotten the EA (environmental assessment) for the Kealia bike path.”

She hopes that project will go out to bid by February, and take about a year for construction of a four-mile shoreline stretch from Kealia to Kapa’a.

Work is progressing also on the Lydgate Park master plan, with the Kamalani Kai Bridge now neighbor to a new pavilion.

The dock strike slowed the arrival of six playground structures for various county parks, with the concrete pads at those parks already done and awaiting playground equipment arrival, she reported.

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

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