LIHUE — It’s back to basics for the County of Kauai.
That’s the common concept that Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. and newly selected County Council Chair Mel Rapozo say is needed to heal past wounds, regain the trust of residents and strengthen community bonds.
”Clearly, the newly elected council is a diverse body with a multitude of visions and goals — we saw a little bit of that this morning — but I’m confident that our different strengths will bring about positive change for the County of Kauai and help to rebuild our community and restore the community’s faith in and integrity of local government,” Rapozo said on Monday.
Close to 300 people attended the ceremony and inaugural Kauai County Council meeting at the Kauai Memorial Convention Hall. The Kauai County Council, including newly elected councilmen Arryl Kaneshiro and KipuKai Kualii, the mayor, County Attorney Mauna Kea Trask and County Clerk Ricky Watanabe, were sworn into office.
Earlier in the day, Rapozo was nominated and confirmed as the seven-member board’s new council chair. Councilman Gary Hooser and Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura, however, voted against Rapozo’s nomination because of his proposed changes to the board’s governing rules.
These changes, which were approved, included eliminating a provision that allows any bill or resolution to be placed on the council’s agenda within 120 days of a written request from a councilmember and requiring that the council chair, rather than a council committee chair, approve an educational workshop.
”We all anticipated a unanimous vote today, however, actions speak louder than words,” Yukimura said.
Councilman KipuKai Kualii, however, disagreed.
”I’m disheartened by what’s happening today by a couple of my fellow council members and the statements that they have made,” Kualii said. “Councilman Mel Rapozo, as I have known him over the years as a constituent and colleague, has always been an honorable, positive friend to me, a leader and a servant.”
For some residents who attended, the tiff set an uneasy precedent.
”It’s going to be very interesting,” Puhi resident Robert Girald said.
Though Carvalho and Rapozo promised swift community actions and a return to core values and services, the two men offered differing promises for what lies ahead.
”There’s so many things happening at one time, so you need to have a vision to understand how you’re going to handle those issues that are before us,” Carvalho said.
Throughout his campaign, Rapozo said he heard some common refrains in the community: “Get back to business,” “Focus on core services,” and “Do the will of the people.”
”How to bring about change in this day and age is a difficult task — one that should not be addressed lightly, so what kind of changes or improvements should we make?” Rapozo asked rhetorically. “Our citizens are very concerned, and rightfully so, about the stability of our county.”
One of his first actions in office, Rapozo said, will be to have Carvalho’s administration work with the County Council to “collectively identify key and tangible goals to get done in the first year of this new term.”
An example of this, he said, is paving Puhi Road within the next seven months.
”How many of you are concerned about Puhi Road,” Rapozo asked the crowd who responded with a round of applause. “We need to focus on projects where our citizens can see and experience results and understand that their tax dollars are working for them.”
The five-term councilman also wants to focus on “internal improvements,” such as not filling current vacant positions, learning how to do more with less, streamlining operations, and employing efficient tactics utilizing new technologies.
”In all areas of government, we talk to each other and not about each other, sealing the cracks that have created disorder and misunderstanding over the years,” Rapozo said.
Rapozo wants the county to find innovative ways to improve its financial picture.
”Items that are not core or essential to protect the health and safety of our county and our citizens should be held off,” he said. “Likewise, projects such as alternative technology for the disposal of solid waste and other important programs should be aggressively pursued. We have two years — imagine what can be accomplished in two years if we remain focused, if we define a vision or goal and we stick by it.”
Carvalho said some of the highest priorities on his administration’s list are opening an adolescent treatment and healing center on Maalo Road in Kapaia; breaking ground on the county’s Lima Ola affordable housing subdivision in Eleele; finishing Ke Ala Hele Makalae, the county’s Eastside coastal path; and continuing work on siting a new landfill and resource recovery park site in Kapaia.
”We’re growing more and more our own food, producing more of our own energy, and of course, getting out of our cars and moving around by foot, bike and mass transit — being mayor has provided me with all of this,” Carvalho said. “I’ve seen how quickly we are moving forward, making technology, renewable energy and innovation work to our advantage. I see these things as a sign of bridging our past to the present in order to build a future that is sustainable and culturally connected always.”