Baptiste embarks on 4-year journey to ‘de-politicize’ county government

PO’IPU – If Mayor Bryan Baptiste handles his first term the way he envisions it, whoever is elected mayor in 2006 will inherit a community re-attached to county government.

In his first four years, he plans to “de-politicize” county government, so that the next mayor will have in place a county government that is reconnected to the people it is paid to serve, he said Wednesday night.

“This is our Kaua’i, not mine, not yours,” he told about 50 members and guests of the Contractors Association of Kauai at the group’s 47th Annual Meeting and Installation Dinner at the Sheraton Kauai Resort here.

He welcomed the association’s members and guests to the all-encompassing team he is putting together to ensure that his “community-based administration” gathers important input from all sectors while it leads Kaua’i for at least the next four years.

“I’m asking you to partner with me to get some things accomplished. The council and I both need your input and participation,” especially as the county’s Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance (CZO) is updated, he said.

The CZO labels every parcel of land on the island with zoning that allows certain uses, and forbids others.

“Honestly, as a county, we couldn’t do too much without you,” he told the contractors. Baptiste immediately recognized CAK members’ contributions to the island, both as employers and as donors of materials, in-kind services and other goods and services when called upon to do so.

His vision for economic development should come into sharper focus when he sits down next week with leaders of the Kaua’i Visitors Bureau, Hawaii Hotel Association, CAK, Kaua’i Chamber of Commerce, and other organizations, to help define the county’s role in economic-development matters.

People were concerned, Baptiste said, when he didn’t hire someone as director of the county Office of Economic Development after former OED Director Gini Kapali moved on.

The office is now under the supervision of Gary Heu, Baptiste’s administrative assistant, and Baptiste said the new arrangement elevates the importance of OED, placing its control in the mayor’s office.

The idea is to gather input from Kauaians so that some economic-development solutions are “industry-driven, and private-sector driven,” to help give the biggest bang for tax dollars to the people of Kaua’i, he said.

Baptiste and his administration are there to serve the needs of the community, and those interested in providing input should be prepared to come to the table with solution-based ideas, he said.

His job is to keep steering the boat towards the destination that is the end vision, he said.

The CAK and Baptiste share the same goal, he said. “I still believe you want sensible, controlled growth,” that will create jobs while not sacrificing the “sense of community.”

“The balance comes when we all start talking story,” but before that happens his administration needs to listen to the people, he said.

“My role as your mayor is to support you,” and to support other organizations, communities and individuals, he continued.

He wants to make sure everyone keeps talking, “with decorum, about what’s best for all Kaua’i.”

He floated an idea, emphasizing that for now it is just an idea, to create a county office of permitting, possibly inside the county Department of Public Works’ Building Division. The new office would be a contractors’ one-stop shop for securing county building permits.

Details on how such an office would be established and run will come from private-sector users, creating “a new paradigm for building,” both for the present and future, he said.

Where the county building-permit desk used to receive around 80 applications a month, it now receives 200 a month, or nearly 10 applications a day, he said.

“So construction seems to be doing good, and seems to be booming,” he said.

Finally, Baptiste asked the CAK to consider moving its annual Home Expo event back to the Kauai War Memorial Convention Hall, as a way to allow the county to serve contractors in return for the many benefits the association gives the community.

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

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