Councilman Hoffmann on County’s Decision to Truck Trash from East Side to West Side “So Much for the Transparency”

I received the following letter from Councilman Pete Hoffmann regarding the County’s recent decision to truck trash from East Hawaii to West Hawaii.

Councilman Pete Hoffmann

No one even remotely connected with County operations would deny that the Department of Environmental Management (DEM) is one of the more complex and difficult operations to control. Add also the somewhat emotional reactions of County residents to the various issues that are involved in the DEM arena and the situation becomes even more complicated. Finally, the fact that the County Council for various reasons has rejected some administrative initiatives to address outstanding matters has only frustrated all involved.

That said, the sordid performance of DEM officials at the recent Finance Committee Budget hearings on 20 April far exceeded any expectations. The immediate background for this less than inspiring series of DEM comments was generated specifically by the Mayor’s presentation at the Kona Town Meeting on 10 April, (and also mentioned at Waikōloa and Waimea talk stories last month) where Mr. Kenoi emphatically stated he had no plans to truck East Hawaii trash to West Hawaii and assured the audience that no decision had been made regarding this ‘hot’ topic. In attendance at this meeting was Hunter Bishop, the DEM Deputy Director.

Despite such comments by the Mayor, a few days later, we learn that a pilot program to truck trash from Kea’au and Hilo to the Pu’uanahulu landfill adjacent to Waikoloa had been in operation for at least a couple of months, without any public notice or explanation. To be clear, the Mayor did not publicly misstate the situation, but his comments certainly gave his listeners a false impression. The budget hearing was the first opportunity for Council members to query Bishop and Dora Beck, the Interim Department Director, on this ‘silent’ project.

Without detailing all of the vocal frustration expressed by Council members, some of the pertinent exchanges of this meeting follow:

- asked why DEM didn’t inform someone of this pilot program, DEM responded they didn’t think they had to reveal to the public (nor apparently to the Council and to the Mayor’s own Environmental Management Commission) every pilot program they activated and didn’t feel it was important. The Council agreed that not every program warranted public exposure, but surely common sense should have indicated that any trash trucking operation, a flashpoint for all involved, would have been a logical project demanding public disclosure and not one to be kept silent.

- queried as to why he did not speak up at the Kona Town Meeting in light of the Mayor’s comments, at least to insure no misperceptions were generated, Mr. Bishop simply stated “no one asked the question”.

- regarding the Hilo Sort Station, DEM officials told the Council during this meeting that the County planned to staff and operate the sort station in the immediate future. The Council passed a resolution some weeks ago by a vote of 6-1 requesting the administration initiate a Request for Proposal for a private-for-profit entity to convert the sort station to a Material Recycling Facility. No County resources were to be used. Asked why DEM/administration would apparently ignore this resolution, no response was provided.

There will always be controversies regarding issues of this nature. However, the blatant refusal of DEM to disclose activities that have a high profile in the community is a curious way to promote the Mayor’s program of transparency and open government. Bishop’s comments reflect an arrogance for the Council and the public that is hard to define. After the 20 April meeting, Bishop was asked why he responded to the Council in this manner? He answered; “well how does one respond to those questions?” I told him a simple statement such as: “in hindsight, we probably should have said something” would have been more appropriate.

Whatever the reason, the Council’s frustration was palpable, the administration’s lack of transparency obvious, and DEM’s responses inappropriate. Whether one agrees or not with trucking trash, I fear that the public’s perception of County government in general has suffered a serious setback. And for those with lingering doubts about the Council’s willingness to cooperate with the administration, here’s a prime example why several Council members are reticent to work with the administration on many issues. I trust the Mayor will take some immediate action to address this matter.

Pete Hoffmann

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