Mayor Kenoi’s Hotseat Transcript

Click Here Mayor Kenoi is on the Honolulu Advertisers Hotseat RIGHT NOW! (ENDED at 1:00)

Thank you Mayor Kenoi for making yourself available to residents who had questions for you.  I understand that many questions were not answered due to the platform and the length of time given.

Here is the Hotseat action from today’s Honolulu Advertiser:

  1. Jeanne Mariani-Belding:
    June 24th, 2009 at 11:47 am Welcome to the Hot Seat. To get us rolling, here’s one sent earlier from Lopaka:
    In hard times like these, private businesses have to cut back, and the Big Island has one of the highest unemployment rates in the state. How is county government cutting back?
  2. Damon Tucker:
    June 24th, 2009 at 11:50 am Aloha Mayor Kenoi,

    My question is directed towards your feelings about county workers and internet usage.

    Do you feel that reading newspapers and in particular blogs on the counties computers should be considered a violation?

    Mahalo,

    Damon Tucker
    Pahoa, Hawaii

  3. Mayor Billy Kenoi:
    June 24th, 2009 at 11:51 am Glad to be here. Aloha, everyone.
  4. Jeanne Mariani-Belding:
    June 24th, 2009 at 11:54 am This one, posted earlier, comes from Kathleen:
    Why were Council leadership positions reorganized? Why are so many very significant positions being shifted at the same time? I am concerned that experienced and knowledgeable members and leadership roles – Pete Hoffmann as Vice Chair of the Council, Dominic Yagong as Chair of Finance, and Brenda Ford as Chair of Public Works & Intergovernmental Relations were changed and replaced with individuals less experienced and untrained on the County Council?

    Wouldn’t it be wiser for the new council persons to have time working with the experienced members of the County Council, before assuming leadership roles? I spoke with Guy Enriques, in my district, and he himself admitted he has a big job to familiarize himself with all the issues, as he is new to the Council and city government.

    I am concerned about this restructuring of power, which could be a manipulation of power and perhaps distorts the fullness of our democracy and the people’s process in government, for our island community.

    Please comment

    Thanks for encouraging my voice.

  5. Keawemahi:
    June 24th, 2009 at 11:57 am I understand the county will furlough some workers but not others in the coming year. Why was that done?
  6. Mrs. Lee:
    June 24th, 2009 at 12:00 pm Aloha Mayor Kenoi,
    I live on fixed income so i really need the free county bus service but I wish there were another midday bus from Hilo to Volcano so I wouldn’t have to wait in Hilo all day after my doctor appointments. Please keep the county bus service free and can you please add buses Hilo to Volcano. Thank you.

    Mrs. Lee

  7. Malia Smith:
    June 24th, 2009 at 12:04 pm Aloha, I sent this a little after noon but no longer see it on the list…sorry if a repeat….how would you rate our island’s chances of getting federal stimulus money for the Kona side mid level road? What other Big Island projects might be in line to get federal stimulus funding? Mahalo…
  8. Mayor Billy Kenoi:
    June 24th, 2009 at 12:06 pm To get us rolling, here’s one sent earlier from Lopaka:
    In hard times like these, private businesses have to cut back, and the Big Island has one of the highest unemployment rates in the state. How is county government cutting back?

    +++

    We submitted a budget that cut 55 vacant positions, the most at any one time in County history. We cut the county budget by 4 percent, the first time the budget was cut since 2001, including 43 separate cuts to the County budget, and every department budget was cut by 10 percent.
    I and my staff are being furloughed one day a month, a savings of $41,714 a month. We have also established an Expenditure Review Committee that approves all out-of-state travel, equipment purchases and other county expenditures. We will continue to make the tough decisions necessary to keep the county in good financial condition.

  9. Mayor Billy Kenoi:
    June 24th, 2009 at 12:08 pm Aloha Mayor Kenoi,

    My question is directed towards your feelings about county workers and internet usage.

    Do you feel that reading newspapers and in particular blogs on the counties computers should be considered a violation?

    Mahalo,

    Damon Tucker
    Pahoa, Hawaii

    +++

    County workers should use county time and county equipment doing county business

  10. Tiffany:
    June 24th, 2009 at 12:10 pm What does Billy think about the Council reorganization? That is my most pressing question
  11. Mayor Billy Kenoi:
    June 24th, 2009 at 12:10 pm This one, posted earlier, comes from Kathleen:
    Why were Council leadership positions reorganized? Why are so many very significant positions being shifted at the same time? I am concerned that experienced and knowledgeable members and leadership roles – Pete Hoffmann as Vice Chair of the Council, Dominic Yagong as Chair of Finance, and Brenda Ford as Chair of Public Works & Intergovernmental Relations were changed and replaced with individuals less experienced and untrained on the County Council?

    Wouldn’t it be wiser for the new council persons to have time working with the experienced members of the County Council, before assuming leadership roles? I spoke with Guy Enriques, in my district, and he himself admitted he has a big job to familiarize himself with all the issues, as he is new to the Council and city government.

    I am concerned about this restructuring of power, which could be a manipulation of power and perhaps distorts the fullness of our democracy and the people’s process in government, for our island community.

    +++

    It is important that the public understand it is the prerogative of the council to reorganize itself without interference from my administration. The concept of separation of powers empowers the county council to reorganize itself as it see fit. For me to become involved would be akin to the governor trying to intervene to select the leadership of the Legislature.

  12. Mayor Billy Kenoi:
    June 24th, 2009 at 12:12 pm # Keawemahi:
    June 24th, 2009 at 11:57 am

    I understand the county will furlough some workers but not others in the coming year. Why was that done?

    +++

    Understandably, that issue is on the minds of pretty much all public workers these days. The only furloughs planned for County of Hawai’i employees for the coming year will be the members of my own staff. I asked the appointees in the mayor’s office to work for one day a month without pay for the coming year, a step that will save the county $41,714. The furloughs include myself, the managing director, deputy managing director and executive assistants.

    We must prepare for the difficult economic times that we know lie ahead. I asked my executive staff to lead that effort by accepting a furlough day each month as part of their contribution to solving our budget problems.

    At the moment we have no plans for more widespread furloughs at the county level, but we will be asking all of our hard-working public employees to do more with less. It’s only fair we should lead by example.

  13. Benjamin:
    June 24th, 2009 at 12:13 pm Questions on Land Sale: I understand that there is a budget shortfall, but why did you choose to pursue sale of the Hamakua county parcels? As an assett owned by all Hawaii County residents it seems like a bad time to sell! The majority of property sales on the island at this time are foreclosures, short sales or seriously distressed sellers. How will we get a decent price selling now? Additionally, how will the sale be advertised and completed? Will it be advertised to mainland investors or companies? Have you considered other uses such as low cost Ag leases to residents?

    Questions on Budget: The County of Hawaii budget as I understand it is based mostly on property tax revenues; various other grants, fees and taxes make up the difference. Property on the island underwent a huge boom from 2001-2007 with large increases in tax revenue. From the county statistics, tax collections went from roughly $220 million for 2002 to $340 million for 2007 – an increase of 54%. While population that the Hawaii County government serves went from 152,000 in 2001 to 173,000 in 2007 – an increase of only 14%. Considering these numbers why doesn’t the County have a bigger reserve for our current downfall? Did County programs and staff expand to fit every new dollar in the budget? Why can’t we ramp down in the same fashion instead of selling resources like the Hamakua land? When the economic recovery comes, will you make a commitment to help create a reserve fund to prevent emergency shortfalls in the future?

  14. Jeanne Mariani-Belding:
    June 24th, 2009 at 12:13 pm Here’s one posted earlier from Rob:
    June 23rd, 2009 at 7:42 pm edit

    The Puna Community Development Plan became law last summer and required you to name nine members to the Action Committee. Thirty six people applied and interviewed by the Planning Department last December. You have now had seven months in office and have failed to appoint this important committee as required by law.

    Why?

  15. Jeanne Mariani-Belding:
    June 24th, 2009 at 12:16 pm Here’s another earlier post from Bruce:
    June 24th, 2009 at 12:12 am edit

    Beyond the TMT initiative, what other projects is the Mayor’s office initiating and or supporting to bring greater economic opportunity to the Big Island? What do you think are the highest priorities–and the greatest obstacles–to bringing opportunities to our residents? How much progress has been made to date on these initiatives?

  16. Mayor Billy Kenoi:
    June 24th, 2009 at 12:17 pm Aloha Mayor Kenoi,
    I live on fixed income so i really need the free county bus service but I wish there were another midday bus from Hilo to Volcano so I wouldn’t have to wait in Hilo all day after my doctor appointments. Please keep the county bus service free and can you please add buses Hilo to Volcano. Thank you.

    Mrs. Lee

    +++

    Our bus riders know the county system has been going through a major expansion. We increased bus service on some of the bus system’s most popular and heavily used routes in February, including the routes from Pahoa to Hilo and the route from Hilo to Kona and back. We also boosted weekend service, and another increase in service is planned for August.

    Our bus ridership for the year ending in May is up 32 percent from the previous year, and if you throw in the shared rise taxi service and transportation we provide to people with disabilities, we expect to exceed 1 million public transportation passenger trips this fiscal year for the first time ever.

    We will acquire the first double-decker bus in the state of Hawaii, and we will use federal stimulus money to buy two new 49-passenger coaches for the longer bus runs. We have also ordered nine new buses that will arrive this year. On your question about the Hilo-to-Volcano run, we are planning additional midday service early next year for that particular route and continuing on to Ka’u.

  17. Tiffany:
    June 24th, 2009 at 12:17 pm “For me to become involved would be akin to the governor trying to intervene to select the leadership of the Legislature.”

    As the leader of this island, shouldn’t you say something about this overwhelming public perception that the Hawaii County Council has pretty well shut the door and put down the shades on open government?

    I think to create harmony islandwide, you should say something about this Sunshine Law violation that happened in the last couple of weeks. We must hear what you have to say on this… It is your duty, sir, and with all due respect.

  18. Mark Fisher:
    June 24th, 2009 at 12:18 pm Aloha Mayor Kenoi,

    Do you support the tax and regulation of Cannabis (Marijuana)?

    If not please explain?

    If so, would you personally contact Gov. Lingle to tell her your support for SB1058 which creates a Medical Cannabis Task Force?

  19. Damon Tucker:
    June 24th, 2009 at 12:20 pm Can the mayors office assist in providing live streaming of county council meetings over the internet to Big Island Residents?

    They don’t even have to be live… but to at least have them online such as Honolulu City Council Meetings are available online to watch.

  20. Tiffany:
    June 24th, 2009 at 12:22 pm “We will acquire the first double-decker bus in the state of Hawaii, and we will use federal stimulus money to buy two new 49-passenger coaches for the longer bus runs.”

    CAN WE GET A HYBRID, PLEASE?

    Send a message that going green may cost a little more, but it is the right thing to do — even in tough times.

    Don’t forget, we live in paradise, and we should act like it. Reduce Hawaii County’s carbon footprint. Send a message, Mr. Mayor. What Would Obama Do? Get a Hybrid Double Decker for $300K more…

  21. Mayor Billy Kenoi:
    June 24th, 2009 at 12:26 pm # Malia Smith:
    June 24th, 2009 at 12:04 pm

    Aloha, I sent this a little after noon but no longer see it on the list…sorry if a repeat….how would you rate our island’s chances of getting federal stimulus money for the Kona side mid level road? What other Big Island projects might be in line to get federal stimulus funding? Mahalo…

    +++

    We are very appreciative of the support of both our congressional delegation and the state administration. U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye and his staff have been very supportive of our requests for federal stimulus funding. Hawaii County is slated to receive over $46 million for road and infrastructure projects. Of that, $35 million is designated for the Ane Keohokalole Mid-Level road in Kona. Because of the hard work of our staff and the support of the DOT and the FHWA, we believe we will qualify for those funds.

    We held workshops last month in Hilo and Kona detailing more than $94 million we expect to receive in the county from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which is the federal economic stimulus bill.

    This funding will create jobs and provide critical services, and also represents an important investment in the infrastructure of our community.

    The tally of federal stimulus projects may grow because county agencies will seek new opportunities for federal stimulus funding through competitive grant writing in the months ahead as federal agencies publish their final rules for grants under the ARRA.

    The largest of the federal stimulus projects slated to receive funding under the ARRA is the Ane Keohokalole Highway in North Kona. The first phase of that project would provide a critical new transportation corridor from Palani Road to Kealakehe, and would throw open Hawaiian Home Lands and state lands for affordable housing development.

    Funding under ARRA is also expected for water and sewer system construction, police protection, fire equipment and training, federal and county parks projects, programs for prevention of homelessness, and job training for youth and adults.

  22. Mayor Billy Kenoi:
    June 24th, 2009 at 12:33 pm # Tiffany:
    June 24th, 2009 at 12:17 pm

    “For me to become involved would be akin to the governor trying to intervene to select the leadership of the Legislature.”

    As the leader of this island, shouldn’t you say something about this overwhelming public perception that the Hawaii County Council has pretty well shut the door and put down the shades on open government?

    I think to create harmony islandwide, you should say something about this Sunshine Law violation that happened in the last couple of weeks. We must hear what you have to say on this… It is your duty, sir, and with all due respect.

    +++

    Our administration is committed to open and transparent government as evidenced by myself and my entire cabinet visiting every community on this island and answering every question posed by community members in an open forum. We are also committed to working with all of our county council members to ensure open and transparent government.

  23. Tiffany:
    June 24th, 2009 at 12:33 pm How will Puna benefit from this federal stimulus money?

    Will we get a county gym? :)

    Also, for the time being until a county gym is built, will the mayor pursue:
    1. pool lights and extra staffing to keep the Pahoa Aquatic Center open at night
    2. an extension to the Pahoa playground (thanks, again, Auntie Emily Naeole)
    3. the resurfacing and covering of the basketball court at Pahoa Neighborhood Facility
    4. the aeration of the baseball field and lights to allow for night usage of the field to give baseball, softball and T-ball teams another field aside from the vintage field fronting Pahoa Elementary School

  24. Tiffany:
    June 24th, 2009 at 12:37 pm “Our administration is committed to open and transparent government as evidenced by myself and my entire cabinet visiting every community on this island and answering every question posed by community members in an open forum. We are also committed to working with all of our county council members to ensure open and transparent government.”

    Skirting the question… but that’s okay, I can plainly see you do not want to step into the hornet’s nest of the Hawaii County Council reorganization and Sunshine Law violation… just keep being open and transparent yourself and stand apart from council members because they are headed down a dark road that is only going to lead to a lot of headaches, lawsuits and public ire for them — and they aren’t re-elected because of all the public animosity they’ve created… Again, thanks for being available to the public, Billy, much appreciated…

  25. Mayor Billy Kenoi:
    June 24th, 2009 at 12:38 pm # Benjamin:
    June 24th, 2009 at 12:13 pm

    Questions on Land Sale: I understand that there is a budget shortfall, but why did you choose to pursue sale of the Hamakua county parcels? As an assett owned by all Hawaii County residents it seems like a bad time to sell! The majority of property sales on the island at this time are foreclosures, short sales or seriously distressed sellers. How will we get a decent price selling now? Additionally, how will the sale be advertised and completed? Will it be advertised to mainland investors or companies? Have you considered other uses such as low cost Ag leases to residents?

    Questions on Budget: The County of Hawaii budget as I understand it is based mostly on property tax revenues; various other grants, fees and taxes make up the difference. Property on the island underwent a huge boom from 2001-2007 with large increases in tax revenue. From the county statistics, tax collections went from roughly $220 million for 2002 to $340 million for 2007 – an increase of 54%. While population that the Hawaii County government serves went from 152,000 in 2001 to 173,000 in 2007 – an increase of only 14%. Considering these numbers why doesn’t the County have a bigger reserve for our current downfall? Did County programs and staff expand to fit every new dollar in the budget? Why can’t we ramp down in the same fashion instead of selling resources like the Hamakua land? When the economic recovery comes, will you make a commitment to help create a reserve fund to prevent emergency shortfalls in the future?

    +++

    Thanks for that collection of questions, Benjamin. I’ll answer them together, because they raise issues that are intertwined. First of all, the county does have a Budget Stabilization Fund or reserve fund, which has $2 million in it. Unfortunately, shortly after taking office I was confronted with a budget shortfall of $31.8 million to maintain current operations in the fiscal year that begins July 1. Property taxes alone are projected to decline by more than $15 million next year, and our income from sources such as the hotel room tax and interest earnings also dropped sharply.

    The day I took office I announced hiring restrictions for all positions except those required for public safety, public health and other essential positions. We imposed a 5 percent budget cut in discretionary spending for the fiscal year that ends June 30. We then imposed a 10 percent cut in discretionary spending for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

    County departments are being required to do more with less. The new budget just approved by the County Council unfunds 55 vacant county positions, which is the largest number of positions unfunded in a single budget in county history.

    We didn’t raise taxes, we didn’t impose layoffs, and the only people we plan to furlough next year are my immediate staff members.

    We will use the $2 million from the Budget Stabilization Fund, but to make the budget balance we need to sell the Hamakua lands. I’m glad you recognize the Hamakua lands are an asset owned by all county residents. Those lands were turned over to the county to settle a tax debt as part of the bankruptcy of proceedings for Hamakua Sugar Company Inc. in 1994. Four of the Hamakua Sugar properties have already been sold, and the county still owns about 3,500 acres.

    We included $8.2 million from the land sale to balance the budget, but we may not need to sell all of the land because our most recent market analysis shows the land is worth significantly more than $8.2 million. We believe it’s in the best interest of county taxpayers at large to put the land into private hands and productive use rather than leave it fallow.

  26. Kaye:
    June 24th, 2009 at 12:40 pm Why is it that the county of Hawaii does not have a medical examiner system?
    Who does the autopsies for your forensic cases?
  27. Mayor Billy Kenoi:
    June 24th, 2009 at 12:44 pm Here’s one posted earlier from Rob:
    June 23rd, 2009 at 7:42 pm edit

    The Puna Community Development Plan became law last summer and required you to name nine members to the Action Committee. Thirty six people applied and interviewed by the Planning Department last December. You have now had seven months in office and have failed to appoint this important committee as required by law.

    Why?

    +++

    Thanks, Rob. Although there were some great candidates on the initial list, I am currently seeking applicants who will represent a broader cross-section of the community and I expect to have new nominations within the next couple of weeks.

    Over the past few months I have reviewed applications and nominated new members to two new planning commissions, the Ka’u Community Development Plan Steering Committee, the Kona Community Development Plan Action Committee, and the North Kohala Community Development Plan Action Committee.

    I look forward to finalizing our Puna Community Development Plan Action Committee members within the next couple of weeks.

  28. Tiffany:
    June 24th, 2009 at 12:45 pm You can answer other people’s questions before mine, but again, why no compromise on the two-percent-set-aside, even just a few thousand dollars to send a message to those concerned about natural resources preservation and the need to keep money going into the fund? (Sorry to be a question hog… just got a lot of stuff going through my mind, and a lot of concerns)
  29. RJ:
    June 24th, 2009 at 12:47 pm Aloha Mayor Kenoi,

    What happens if the Hamakua lands don’t sell? How will our county budget be changed?

  30. Pat:
    June 24th, 2009 at 12:48 pm Aloha Mayor,

    I see many positive changes occurring since you assumed your position. I am however concerned that some departments are not welcoming the changes and in fact may be contributing to the added problem of unemployment. We know that construction had slowed considerably but yet there continues to be delays in receiving permits. We hear excuses as to why they are so slow but nothing about how it will improve. In fact we hear that it will only get worse. During this time of rising unemployment I would hope that an area that can add to the employment pool would be focused on getting permits fast tracked. What are your thoughts?

  31. disenfranchised:
    June 24th, 2009 at 12:51 pm As Reed Flickenger says in today’s edition of West Hawaii Today regarding the recent council”coup…

    “So we are left in the
    ambivalent situation: A
    suspect in the crime is a
    potential remedy to the
    problem. Kenoi has, by
    default or design, again
    been cast into the position
    of going either way, doing
    right by West Hawaii, or
    taking the well-worn path
    of Hilo politics. We are only
    several steps away from
    seeing the direction he
    chooses.”
    My question is: which way will you choose?

  32. disenfranchised:
    June 24th, 2009 at 12:54 pm 31 questions, only 9 answered? How come?
  33. Mayor Billy Kenoi:
    June 24th, 2009 at 12:54 pm Here’s another earlier post from Bruce:
    June 24th, 2009 at 12:12 am edit

    Beyond the TMT initiative, what other projects is the Mayor’s office initiating and or supporting to bring greater economic opportunity to the Big Island? What do you think are the highest priorities–and the greatest obstacles–to bringing opportunities to our residents? How much progress has been made to date on these initiatives?

    +++

    Mahalo for the question, Bruce. The two largest industries on this island are the visitor industry and construction, and we have moved rapidly to shore up both industries.

    We are supporting the $50 million Target/Safeway project in Hilo, and the consolidation of the Keaukaha Military Reservation Armed Forces Reserve Center, which will inject another $50 million in the economy. We are working to expedite the state’s $73 million Phase II Queen Kaahumanu project, and to ensure that we move forward with the $35 million Mid-Level Road. We are also moving forward with county construction projects like the $9 million Makalei Fire Station, the $25 million in Department of Water Supply Projects, and the $50 million West Hawaii Civic Center.

    We are working with the airlines to make sure more seats are available to bring visitors to Hawaii Island. Alaska Airlines has agreed to start a new flight with service from Oakland direct to Kona. We are also working with the Big Island Visitors Bureau to get direct flights from the Mainland to Hilo and are working with airlines to increase service to Korea and Japan. We have met recently with all of the general managers of each hotel and resorts (six of our 10 largest employers) and with our employee unions to work collaboratively to assist our hospitality industry.

    We will continue working to expand our university and to support the development of new industries (alternative energy) for Hawaii County.

  34. Mayor Billy Kenoi:
    June 24th, 2009 at 12:58 pm # Mark Fisher:
    June 24th, 2009 at 12:18 pm

    Aloha Mayor Kenoi,

    Do you support the tax and regulation of Cannabis (Marijuana)?

    If not please explain?

    If so, would you personally contact Gov. Lingle to tell her your support for SB1058 which creates a Medical Cannabis Task Force?

    +++

    The county does not have taxing authority or regulatory authority over marijuana. It is a federal and state regulatory issue.

  35. Jeanne Mariani-Belding:
    June 24th, 2009 at 1:02 pm We’re out of time. Thanks to all who participated. A special thanks to Mayor Billy Kenoi for taking the time to answer questions from the community. Be sure to watch for excerpts of this community conversation in The Advertiser’s Focus section on Sunday.

    Be sure to join us next Wednesday for our first-ever live video stream version of The Hot Seat, with Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann. See you then!

  36. Mayor Billy Kenoi:
    June 24th, 2009 at 1:05 pm Thanks everyone for your questions. I look forward to seeing all of you at our community meetings. Aloha.

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