Hiring and firing season

The 2010 election season officially kicked off this week with a handful of candidates pulling papers to run for local office while a few political veterans strategize from the sidelines.

As we watch the momentum build over the next several months en route to the primary election on Sept. 18 followed by the grand finale on Nov. 2, we will be keeping tabs on those currently in office to ensure they don’t become derelict in their duties to serve the public now.

Politicians would have us believe there are certain unfortunate “realities” of election season, such as focusing more on getting re-elected than working toward fulfilling campaign promises. We hope those we put in office in 2008 aren’t afraid to step up to the plate in the second half of the game irrespective of their future ambitions.

The Kaua‘i County Council and Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. have mostly played it safe for the past 14 months. If they don’t rock the boat too much between now and election day, they may very well be returned to office on simple name recognition alone. The question we, as voters, must answer is do they deserve it.

There has been no sweeping reform passed. Some might say this is a good thing because the less action government takes, the better. Others might say drastic improvement is needed on multiple fronts and that is what we hired them to do. There’s always room to become more efficient and effective.

Last election season we heard ad nauseum about all the great change the seven-member legislative body was going to usher in, particularly in the arenas of solid waste, traffic, sustainability and housing.

The council seems to have retained its hot air but its bag of bills is hardly bloated. We’ll gladly excuse the government transparency detour but even that debate yielded no measurable results — no resolutions were passed, no advisory committees convened and no rules changed.

The previous council tied bows on substantial bills related to a housing policy, shoreline setback and transient vacation rentals. While imperfect, the legislation attempted to address some major concerns shared by many community members. (The current council has worked on amendments to water down the shoreline setback bill by creating a loophole for minor projects and weaken the vacation rental bill by allowing non-enforcement agreements for those businesses to operate on ag land.)

Although the council took a few spins doing its favorite dance — the Calendar Slide to the tune of Deferral — the body eventually passed bills to ban the use of handheld electronics while driving and plastic bags at retail stores’ checkout counters.

The council breezed through the county’s $154.09 million operating budget and $58.83 million capital improvement projects budget in April and May. We watched as they patted each other on the back while calling the 2.5 percent decrease over the previous year’s budget “very conservative.” We fear the repercussions this year — possibly county employee furloughs — for not trimming more of the fat last year.

Recycling issues and the Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan were addressed by many members of the public who testified during the budget’s public hearing, but attempts by Council members Tim Bynum, Lani Kawahara and Jay Furfaro to fully fund a vacant recycling coordinator position were eventually shot down.

Gary Heu has made efforts on behalf of the administration to prod the council along, but without much success. In mid-April he pushed the council to start making preparations for new waste technology. “Government moves slow enough already,” he said at the time.

Talking about getting serious about solid waste does not suffice.

And where’s the CZO update the council discussed with Planning Director Ian Costa in April? Furfaro said the council will hold the Planning Department’s feet to the fire and Chair Kaipo Asing said it is the “most important document for this county” but it is nowhere to be found on the agenda.

Does the council ever plan on implementing the charter change voters overwhelmingly approved last election? The amendment ties development to the General Plan by transferring permitting powers from the Planning Commission to the County Council. What did we get for the tens of thousands of dollars that we have shelled out for outside counsel to advise us on how to implement this law? What are our own attorneys doing about it?

The amendment gives council the authority to pass the permitting power back to the commission, as long as a growth rate is attached. So why don’t they just do that and be done with it? As Costa said last February, “They’re elected politicians with no planning background. They aren’t in the business of permitting and couldn’t handle it.”

We know government moves slowly, but seriously.

At the council’s inaugural meeting, Asing portrayed himself as a molder of consensus. Is the consensus clay no longer malleable? As a newspaper committed to getting questions answered for the public, it is an unfortunate disservice to residents that the council chair chooses to make himself unavailable to speak to the media.

At the same meeting, Councilman Derek Kawakami said, “We’re going to focus our energy on making a positive difference.” Let’s put some more substance to that sentence on the home stretch shall we?

While the council’s regular public meetings help us all to more easily hold them accountable, the administration should not be let off the hook.

We applauded the mayor for proposing a site for the landfill because it got the ball rolling, but the location on ag land being used by Kaua‘i Coffee Company is not going to fly. We hope this issue is brought back to the forefront, that there is continued public vetting and that the tough decisions are made. With our sole landfill in Kekaha nearing capacity, we can’t afford to kick this down the calendar until after the election.

Carvalho went back-and-forth on where to put the multi-use path in Wailua after a community uprising over concerns about Hawaiian burials in the area and the overall sacredness of the beach. The proposed landfill site selection, which was based on an advisory committee’s recommendation, should be reconsidered with a dose of common sense.

We’re still waiting for the administration to pick a place on Kaua‘i for local residents to get clean and sober. This is consistently a not-in-my-backyard issue, so we also call on the community to support a place that boosts the overall health of our island.

We commend the incumbents who choose to remain in the fight to better the lives of the constituents they serve while they moonlight for re-election or a higher office.

We also want to recognize that divisiveness on the council floor or elsewhere is not necessarily a bad thing. While a cohesive council would click nicely, we question what the absence of a healthy exchange of differing viewpoints would mean for the end product.

Ultimately, we expect those we elected to finish the jobs we hired them to do. This means continuing to work hard and making tough decisions — even during election season.

With all seven council seats up for grabs again this fall along with a full mayoral term and positions in the state Legislature and in Congress, we have no doubt the candidate pool will eventually be brimming with potential.

Voters have a huge responsibility to put qualified people in positions with the power to steer us out of these uncertain economic times and into a bright, sustainable future. Let the hiring season begin.


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