Kouchi foresaw name recognition advantage in KIUC election

Expects Gardiner to remain board chair

Former County Councilmember Ron Kouchi said Tuesday he was disappointed by the low number of voters (around 34 percent) who cast ballots in the Kaua’i Island Utility Cooperative board election.

The election took place over a two-week period and concluded Saturday.

As a veteran of 13 elections including the KIUC opportunity, he admits that nothing really surprised him about the results, even his receiving the most votes and being selected on over half of the 7,595 ballots cast.

“After the recently concluded mayoral campaign and 20 prior years of campaigning for the council, I understand the value of name recognition,” he said. “So, I felt that, certainly, I had a decided advantage over the other people who were running.”

Kouchi said the low turnout shows that mail-in-only elections aren’t as popular with voters as casting a ballot in person.

“The only thing that I was a little surprised at, in a disappointing way, certainly was that only a third of the people chose to mail their ballots back,” he said.

Kouchi said he will focus on two items as he joins the new board.

“My main focus continues to be twofold; one, to see to what extent that we can develop the alternative energies; and, then, to what extent that we will be able to lower rates,” he said. “Whether I’m the chairman, or whether I’m the ninth member of the team, that’ll still be where my energy’s going to be spent.”

Kouchi said that senior citizens probably played a significant role in the election’s outcome. The seniors are more active voters and may be on fixed incomes so are very concerned with electric rates on the island, he said.

Well-known local residents Dennis Esaki and John Bandmann, who placed second and third, behind Kouchi, along with Randall Hee, Saburo “Sab” Yoshioka and Abel Medeiros, did well likely because they are recognized in the community, especially among older Kauaians, Kouchi said.

Some five of seven candidates who joined forces to pay for cable-TV election ads were elected, Kouchi said: Bandmann, Walt Barnes, Esaki, Gregg Gardiner and Yoshioka.

Fran Brennan and Rohit Mehta from that slate were unsuccessful.

And, since the five from the slate constitute a majority on the nine-member board, and all but Yoshioka are members of the current, interim board, Kouchi speculates they’ll vote to keep Gardiner as board chair.

“I think, at this point, with five of the slate that was advertised having been elected, I’m assuming that they would like to keep Gregg there (as chair),” Kouchi said when asked if he wanted to serve as KIUC board chair.

Naming a chairman for the new board will be done at their first meeting, scheduled for noon Friday at the KIUC conference room in Kukui Grove Village West’s Hana Kukui Building.

A 10 a.m. swearing-in ceremony is set for Friday at the Kaua’i War Memorial Convention Hall in Lihu’e. Both events are open to the public. The morning event will also serve to recognize the outgoing founding and interim directors.

Kouchi said the election was conducted in a fair way. “At this point, I have no reason to believe otherwise,” he said.

However, Kouchi said some in the community felt that KIUC was paying for candidate’s cable TV commercials, and that may have done some harm to the co-op’s credibility. Not only did KIUC not pay for the advertisements, but such expenditures would not have been allowed under KIUC bylaws and state Public Utilities Commission regulations, Kouchi said.

“In future elections, what we should do is have a disclosure of who is paying for any advertising material,” he suggested.

Kouchi, Esaki and Bandmann will be sworn in for three-year terms, with Susan Stayton, Hee and Yoshioka winning two-year terms for placing fourth, fifth and sixth, respectively, and Gardiner, Barnes and Medeiros winning one-year terms for placing seventh, eighth and ninth, respectively.

Gardiner has served as board chair since KIUC was formed over three years ago to attempt to purchase Kaua’i Electric and turn the investor-owned utility (then) into a member-owned cooperative (now).

“The democratic process worked,” said Gardiner. “It was a good slate of candidates. There were 31 excellent candidates, and no matter how you sliced and diced that group I think you were going to get a good board.”

“And I think that the nine that got seated is a good board,” Gardiner said. “Am I sorry that we lost the leadership of Fran Brennan and Rohit and some of the experience that maybe Jimmy Mayfield and Mark Hubbard would have brought? Sure.”

Asked if he wished to continue serving as board chair, he said, “The chair serves at the pleasure of the board. And we’ll all know on Friday what the board’s pleasure is.”

“We are delighted with our new board of directors,” said Alton Miyamoto, president and chief executive officer of KIUC.

“We feel strongly that we delivered an honest, unbiased and impartial process. The membership has spoken. I am confident we can now begin to look forward to a successful future for KIUC,” Miyamoto said.

Meeting agendas and information about KIUC are available at www.kiuc.coop.

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

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