LIHUE — If elected to serve on the Kauai County Council, Norma Doctor Sparks promises to tighten up the county budget.
“I’m not sure the county has a real understanding of the budget; it’s not very user-friendly,” she said.
Doctor Sparks, an attorney and former Hawaii State Deputy Attorney General, was concerned the Department of Public Works was able to transfer $140,000 to pay a fine without telling the council.
“No one knew where they pulled that money from; that’s not appropriate,” she said.
Doctor Sparks, 66, who was born in Koloa and earned a master’s degree in social work from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, knows how to handle large budgets. She was the deputy assistant director with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Social Services, where she managed a $4 billion budget.
“The way I’ve always managed, I’ve always asked staff to give me information in a way it would make sense to me. I’m not an accountant,” she said.
If elected, she plans to change the way the budgets are formatted and ask the administration to draft the budget so everyone can understand it.
“They run these reports with very tiny numbers, so you can’t really tell what’s (going on),” she said.
Doctor Sparks also will ask for financial reports in the third quarter of the fiscal year. As an administrator, that is something she’s always done.
“I always asked for people to give me a report on personnel, how many vacancies there are and how long they’ve been vacant,” she said. “I also asked for operations, and what they can pay upfront or what is due in the fourth quarter. So I move things up really early in the fiscal year, so I can identify these little pockets of dollars that different offices might have.”
That way, by the fourth quarter, stakeholders have an idea of what the departments will need for the next year, and why.
“Then we sit down together to talk about priorities,” she said.
Doctor Sparks said she doesn’t see that happening in the council.
“In the budget process, the council waits until late in the fiscal year to get reports,” she said.
She also thinks the county needs to focus on providing only mandated services.
“We all want to be helpful to everyone, but the bottom line, we’re not flush,” she said. “There’s very little discretionary activities you can do when you’re in a recession.”
She also hopes to bring transparency to county work by identifying what county special funds can be used for, and make that information available to the public.
In addition to working with the LA County Department of Public Services, Doctor Sparks served as the assistant director of the LA County Department of Children and Families and the director of the Santa Clara County Department of Family and Children Services.
In Hawaii, she was the administrator for child welfare services for the State of Hawaii Department of Human Services and for the Sate of Hawaii Child Enforcement Agency.
She hopes to use her experience in social work to combat homelessness on the island.
“I’m concerned with homelessness and how to address it — there’s no one solution,” she said.
But some solutions could be partnering with churches and other organizations to provide the homeless with temporary housing, which was done in California, she said.
Another issue, Doctor Sparks said, is making sure people are aware of county projects, like the road work on Waikomo Road in Koloa.
“I didn’t know it was happening until I went to a county meeting,” she said. “Citizens have the right to know what the county is planning on doing, and there should be meaningful dialogue about it.”
She also wasn’t sure if people knew the extent of the Hardy Street project.
If elected, she plans to work with local businesses in the area where work is going to be done to advertise what is happening.
“I want to ensure that everyone’s voice is going to be heard,” she said.