Some Kaua‘i County Council members yesterday said they would not support a bill to dismantle the Office of Community Services — an agency Mayor Bryan Baptiste deems, “the best way to address the needs for housing, the elderly and transportation on Kaua‘i.”
At yesterday’s council meeting at the historic County Building, councilman Ron Kouchi said while the agency is duty-bound to provide required services to Kaua‘i residents, “It is not my place as a councilmember to structure the administration and tell the mayor how to get the job done, but to ask him that it get done and that I evaluate him in that way.”
Councilmember Jay Furfaro said he agreed with Kouchi and expects to discuss the proposal further during council budget sessions beginning April 2.
An April 25 public hearing on the proposal to dismantle the office has been scheduled as well.
Councilmember Tim Bynum said he felt the same way as Kouchi and Furfaro, though he is willing to keep an open mind to the proposal by councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura, who cited the need for the change to streamline the services.
Proponents and critics of the proposal are both seeking ways to achieve that end, and to make the best use of government funds for services affecting thousands of residents.
The transportation entity operates the Kaua‘i Bus, the housing entity helps develop affordable housing, and the elderly affairs entity provides services to hundreds of senior citizens.
Although the agency was established in 1999, Yukimura said she never understood “why they were put together in the first place, because they are such different agencies.”
“They have different rules and regulations, and have different missions,” she said.
The various entities should operate in the most streamlined manner “instead of going through another layer between the mayor and those offices,” she said.
“I hope we can have some discussion about what would be the best format for the accomplishment of the mission by these entities,” she said.
Although Yukimura has proposed the hiring of three appointed staffers to help the mayor in delivering the services, the proposal, if approved, “will not change the status of the housing executive or the transportation executive,” as both are excluded management personnel, she said.
Councilwoman Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho said she would prefer the three new positions be held by people not appointed by the mayor.
County housing specialist Ken Rainforth has worked diligently and expertly on housing programs and projects for 30 years, Iseri-Carvalho said, an assessment echoed by Yukimura.
Iseri-Carvalho said Rainforth has survived on the job as long as he has because he is a non-appointee.
Gary Heu, the administrative assistant to Baptiste, said the current agency has reached many goals since 1999, among them a vibrant and aggressive program to develop hundreds of affordable homes targeted for local residents in the next few years.
The agency should continue in its current form, as funding for it has been requested in the next operating budget, Heu said.
The council also praised Bernard Carvalho, the former head of the Office of Community Services who was recently appointed by Baptiste as the head of the county Department of Parks and Recreation.
The new department was created through charter amendment change approved by voters in November.
Praise also went out to Janine Rapozo for her work as the head of the county Department of Transportation. Baptiste recently appointed her to take over Carvalho’s old job.