Commentary by Former Councilman Pete Hoffman – Let the “Newbies” Cast a Few Votes Before Criticizing

Despite some misgivings, I’m finding I’m unable to simply fade into the woodwork after eight years in County politics. I doubt anyone who’s even remotely interested in what’s happening locally would be able to ‘turn off the faucet’ and evaporate in an instant. Therefore, a few opinions are offered as I labor to meet my wife’s goal of finding ‘gainful employment’.

It’s been a month since the elections and mercifully we have survived another bout of ‘sign pollution’. However, no spectator of this last election, irrespective of what level (federal, state, local) is reviewed, can fail to be concerned regarding the impact of the so-called ‘super-PACs’ on the voting results. Personally, I wonder whether the Supreme Court in its decision really anticipated the effect of the resources brought to bear on candidates from the PACs in a wide variety of races? Here in Hawaii, one or two Honolulu-based organizations spent several hundreds of thousands of dollars influencing the outcome of local campaigns. Is this the political future upon which our democracy rests!! This is truly scary!!!

Although the PAC contributions did not result in victories in every race (Margaret Wille did manage to win her race for County Council), the specter of their potential impact will dramatically change the campaigning landscape in 2014 and beyond if no steps are taken to place some restraints on the size of these contributions. While national contests may be immune to some of this impact, local races remain extremely vulnerable in this environment. This should not happen. I believe that the concept of public financing for elections is in jeopardy under these circumstances. Not many new candidates, let alone toughened incumbents, will be able to match PAC donations.

As to the Mayoral campaign, much can be stated about the results and much more can be inferred. If I understand it correctly, Mayor Kenoi won re-election after outspending Harry Kim by a factor of 30 times. (Some have calculated that disparity even higher). Whatever number you wish to use, the impact of political contributions from sources outside the BigIsland likely played a considerable role in the vote count. And when you consider that Mayor Kenoi won by a relatively small margin despite the tidal wave of spending on his behalf, any observer must conclude this was not exactly a resounding endorsement of an incumbent candidate who seeks higher office. A reassessment of policy and a more effective public outreach would be my first considerations if I were in the Mayor’s shoes. A reappraisal of my leadership style and initiatives would also rank high on my list of things to review. The Mayor is a smart individual with supposedly good people skills. I’m hopeful in his second term he makes the adjustments that our island requires, that he will be able to partner with those who don’t always agree with him politically, and that he will be able to generate the voter support an effective leader requires in his quest for higher office.

As to the results of the election itself, a very different County Council is in place. Some letters to the editor have already condemned the ‘overwhelming tilt’ of the Council to the eastside, and that may be the case. But at least give the novice Council members the benefit of the doubt before determining that they are ‘lost’ to compromise. Let the ‘newbies’ cast a few votes before criticism is levied.

I do agree that the estrangement of Brenda Ford from any real position of leadership on the new Council does not bode well and sends an ominous signal. One can only imagine the convoluted rationale of the Council that denied Ms. Ford some major responsibility in the current organization. No one denies that she is tenacious in defending her positions. No one denies that she can be aggressive and controversial. (I didn’t agree with her on many issues). However, no one denies she has been the hardest worker on the Council for the past two terms, has probably done more extensive homework and research than other members, and has a wealth of experience and information that a vastly renovated Council lacks, at least for the moment. The Council needs individuals who can lead, and no matter whether you agree or not with the policies of Ms. Ford, she is a leader. A Council with six new members can ill afford to play politics and remain effective.

At the bottom of County Council correspondence is a brief statement that says: “serving the interests of the people of our island.” I trust the new Council recognizes that to be effective it must adhere to that statement and avoid even the hint of political gamesmanship that, unfortunately, has characterized many previous Council discussions. The people of our island need real leadership not simply political agendas.

Councilman Pete Hoffmann

Pete Hoffman, December 2012

Hawaiian Pride Senior Softball Team Wins 2012 Winter World Championships

Pete Hoffman on “A Softball Saga”:

Normally I write about some politically related issue that is capturing the local headlines.  Permit me to change gears a little and relate a sports story.

On 15 November, the Hawaiian Pride Senior Softball Team won the 2012 Winter World Championships in the 70+ age group, Major League Division in Phoenix, Arizona.

Of the 18 members of the team that competed in Arizona, fourteen are Big lsland residents, to include Coach/Player Danny Ayala, Mel Hirayama, Frank Amaral, Dave Belaski, Jack McMenimen, Mike Fontes, Herb Leite, Billy Lyman, Clyde Nishioka, Jerry Tulang, George Kodani, Travis Warner, Richard Rodero and Pete Hoffmann.

The tournament victory emphasizes several noteable achievements.  First, I think it attests to the success of the County’s efforts in promoting senior softball.  When I arrived on the Big Island in 1997, there were eight senior softball teams.  There are currently 23 or 24 depending upon the eventual 2013 Kupuna League set up.  Senior softball remains one of the County’s biggest success stories for the Department of Parks and Recreation.

Second, when the Hawaiian Pride team travels to the mainland, it regularly faces teams that represent much larger constituencies:  New Mexico, Oregon, Central California, for example.  We do not enjoy the relatively large pool of potential players from which others draw players.  Nevertheless, we remain very competitive in all aspects of the game, and not just in the 70+ age group.

Which leads to the third conclusion, the quality of play on the Big Island is quite good and the spirit intense.  In the Phoenix tournament, four of the six games were decided in the final inning.  Exciting games are the ingredients that bring players back season after season.  Big Island Senior Softball certainly confirms the validity of that observation.

Just thought you’d like to be aware that politics is not the only subject we can discuss!!!

PETE HOFFMANN

Getting Personal With Hawaii County Council Candidate Margaret Wille

Last week, Waimea resident and attorney Margaret Wille announced on her blog in a posting, Moving Forward Towards Run for District 9 County Council Seat, that she would be making a run for the Hawaii County Council seat that Pete Hoffman is vacating as his term is over.

A number of months ago, Councilman Pete Hoffmann called  and asked me to stop to discuss some proposed ordinance he was drafting.  As the conversation about the ordinance was coming to a close, Pete turned to me and said — I think you should run for my seat on the County Council next year  (he is now termed out). 

Before that  I had not given considered running for this legislative office. I told him I would give him my answer by the end of the month. And my answer was yes.   Thereafter, the more I thought about being part of the council and working in the area of legislation and policy, the more excited I became.

I’ve gotten to know Margaret online and through her blog so I asked her a few questions about her potential run for County Council.

I asked “who and/or what inspires you?”

What inspires me:  The beauty of our island — trees, the ocean, our mountains,  open pastures, the sky. I am very grateful to live here and be part of this community.

The extraordinary potential of this island community — its unique history and rich cultural values and sense of place.  

The belief that we can each make a difference — to make the world a little better place.

Somene who inspired me:   My mother — who dedicated much of her life working on national peace efforts. She always gave of herself for the wellbeing of others in need.

Judge Spottswood W. Robinson,  Judge on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals  for the District of Columbia — with whom I did an internship. He had an extraordinary sense of justice and dedication to the rule of law.

I went on to ask her “tell me a little bit about your upbringing” and she stated:

I spent most of my life growing up in New England — lived and worked in Maine before moving to Hawaii.  I enjoy rural life. Over the years while living in Maine I had a pet pig “Easter Katie” (that thought it was a dog), horses, dogs, a donkey, a goose that liked to watch television, and an extraordinary crow named Frank that hung out around my law office. He would sit on my shoulder while I worked in my law office. 

I first came to Hawaii in 1970 when my brothers Eugene and Ward (Thomas) McCain purchased the Aloha Theater and healthfood store.  I helped them open the store — painting, cleaning, and cooking. That year was the first time I drove through Waimea. Waimea-town  felt like a secret garden (where the mountains and forests and streams met the plains and pastures). Ever since then I thought about how lucky Waimea’s residents were to live in such a special place.   My mother lived in Puako for many years. I moved here full time in 2002.

Throughout my life and travels, I have had many extraordinary opportunities – especially educational opportunities. I  want to do what I can so others have similar educational opportunities and are able to find a good job that is meaningful and secure here on the Big Island.

I then asked “What would be the first bill that you would put before the county if elected?”

Before introducing any bill, I would want to make a list of all projects that are underway and figure out why each of them has not yet happened and what needs to be done to move them forward as quickly as possible.

With respect to legislation, I would likely start with legislation that would be helpful to all segments of the the District 9 community (and also helpful to the rest of the Island)– such as working on establishing a regional transit hub in Waimea and simplifying the subdivision code so that the permitting process is easier.  I would also want to assess the need for legislation to identify and better protect our Hawaiian cultural assets. I would also want to continue focusing  on infrastructure needs and public transportation, preservation of Pelekane Bay and harbor and recreational  issue in both North and South Kohala, and water issues in general.  

Because I have followed Council business over the years, I am fairly knowledgable in a lot of areas.  A key long-term focus will be on educational efforts from a county perspective — from local community efforts such as a mentoring program, and down the road additional vocational and high tech educational opportunities for all ages.

I have experience drafting legislation and regulations —  including drafting regulations for the Maine Department of Agriculture. In the 1980’s I was worked on labor issues involved in federal immigration legislation and testified before a Senate Committee on behalf of Maine woodsworkers.

Candidate Wille posted the following on her website:

County Council District 9 as now configured– which basically includes North and South Kohala — is a place of extraordinary potential with extraordinary people.  We are a place of great resourcefulness among ourselves.  

Here is what I have drafted so far about my candidacy:

HELP ELECT MARGARET WILLE

District 9 County Council: Seeking office for the benefit of our communities: Hawi, Kapaau, Kawaihae, Mauna Kea and Mauna Lani, Puako, Waikoloa, Waimea, and Waikii

Employmentattorney practicing land use law in Waimea (previous employment included part-time teaching at Parker School, consultant for a state department of agriculture, and administrator of a state-wide volunteer program for the American Bar Association to assist institutionalized adult and youth offenders reentering society)

Educational background:  J.D. Law; Masters Education; B.A. Anthropology

Core values: pono – balance and rightness; ‘ike loa – wisdom and knowledge; aloha ‘āina – love of the land;  and  ho‘omau – perseverance

Focus as a councilperson will be: Availability of good jobs and educational opportunities for District 9 residents; need-based and entrepreneurial solutions to crime and social problems; agricultural sufficiency and resiliency; implementation of a 511 traffic alert system; completion of the Kawaihae to Waimea bypass; opportunities for recreation and health; restoration of Pelekane Bay; low cost renewable energy; promote the wisdom and glory of the Hawaiian people and culture.

Vision: Community First!  Let me help you make a difference.

Efforts and Accomplishments as an active member of our community:

  • Margaret’s proposed redistricting plan (Plan 40) was selected as the final base Plan for the Hawaii County Council Districts. [Margaret drafted this Plan 40 in consultation with community members around the County to challenge the Commission’s previously preferred Plan that was lop-sided in favor of Hilo.]
  • Margaret submitted various amendments to the County Charter Commission, which as adopted by the Charter Commission, were approved by the voters in 2008. [The amendments she submitted included the original draft of the voter approved “public trust” Charter amendment.  The objective of the “public trust” Charter provision is to protect and preserve Hawaiian cultural sites and practices and environmental natural resources. The Charter Commission also adopted suggestions she made to provide internet notification about government meetings.]
  • In a pro bono legal action, Margaret successfully represented Waimea community members to force the County of Hawaii to require Parker Ranch to carry out its obligation to construct the Parker Ranch Connector Road as had been promised in the 1990s. As the result of these legal actions, the Parker Ranch Connector Road (2 phases) was completed in 2008.
  • In another pro bono legal action, while co-chair of the Waimea Planning and Design Committee, Margaret in collaboration with Parker School reached a settlement with the County and Parker School in the context of the school’s planned expansion. The additional permit conditions, as now being implemented, provide for increased pedestrian safety, and mitigation of traffic congestion in Waimea in the area of Lindsey and Kapiolani Roads.
  • As a member of the South Kohala Traffic Safety Committee, Margaret recently suggested the construction of a regional transit hub on Lindsey Road extension adjacent to the Waimea Post Office to provide for a multi-modal transit hub and information facility.  With the support of Councilman Pete Hoffmann, in December 2011, the County Council unanimously voted in favor of placing this project on the County’s Capital Improvement Project List.
  • While participating in a meeting concerning traffic safety at the Waimea public schools, Margaret proposed the original idea of an intra-Waimea shuttle bus service from Lakeland to Kamuela View Estates, which with the help of Parker School representatives, the South Kohala Traffic Safety Committee, and Councilmember Pete Hoffmann, this bus service is now a part of our island-wide hele-on service.
  • As part of the Parker Ranch Connector Road settlement, with the help of the Trails and Greenways Committee and members of the Kenoi administration, Margaret negotiated for additional easement land to be given by Parker Ranch to the County at no cost for the Waimea Trails and Greenways project –so that the trail would not be fenced up against residential lots.
  • While a Director on the Waimea Community Association Board of Directors,  with the help of innumerable participants  from federal, state and county agencies as well as many non-government entities and individuals, Margaret facilitated a community meeting on Emergency Preparedness and Resiliency.
  • As co-chair of the Conservation Subcommittee of the Community Development Plan Committee, Margaret, along with Bob Hunter and other Waimea residents, successfully lead the effort to remove the one-acre zoning across the face of Waimea’s Hōkū‘ula pu‘u.
  • While participating in a community meeting addressing issues relating to the proposed County agricultural plan, Margaret organized the participants in an effort to draft and lobby in support of county legislation to address the frightening problem of the little red ant invasive species spreading across the island. With the help of Councilman Pete Hoffmann, the resulting County Council resolution passed 9-0.
  • As a member of the South Kohala Community Development Plan Steering Committee, Margaret drafted many provisions that are now part of that Plan enacted into law in 2008, such as on issues relating to increasing higher education opportunities in South Kohala and increasing the authority of the SKCDP action committee.
  • Over the past decade Margaret has testified many times at County and State legislative and board hearings on issues affecting the welfare of our communities and has often informed affected community constituencies about important issues so that others could participate and make an impact on the government decision-making process.

MARGARET WILLE NEEDS YOUR HELP

FOR MORE INFORMATION OR JUST TO SAY YOU SUPPORT HER CANDIDACY, CONTACT MARGARET:    margaretwille@mac.com;  887-1419; Friends to Elect Margaret Wille  P.O. Box 528 Kamuela Hi 96743

Councilman Pete Hoffman on the Demise of Impact Fees

Councilman Pete Hoffman

On 21 September, in a surprising reversal of its Planning Committee recommendation two weeks previous, the County Council voted five to four to defeat the long-anticipated Impact Fee legislation.

Despite the obvious need (expressed by almost everyone even remotely involved on this issue) to revamp the current ineffective ‘fair-share’ system, despite the benefit of continuous support (free of charge by the way) from the experts originally contracted by the County to study an Impact Fee, despite a further three page listing of suggested recommendations from the County’s Planning Director received only on 19 September, despite growing public approval for an Impact Fee proposal, and despite repeated explanations countering the numerous misunderstandings of some opponents, the Council terminated Bill 304 at First Reading.

Disappointment is the prevailing sentiment that characterizes this vote.  I’m disappointed that as a Council we are unable to address adequately the difficult issues that have plagued us repeatedly over the years.  I’m not necessarily convinced that my proposal is the best, but I do know that impact fees work, they have been adopted by literally thousands of communities that faced the same infrastructure shortfalls as Hawaii County does now, and development has not stopped in any of those communities.  If Council members don’t like my idea, then what other alternatives do they suggest?  State law has allowed us to adopt impact fees for the past 18 years.  How long must residents wait?  If not now, when will we be courageous enough to create an effective system to address these shortfalls??

Another irony of the situation is that the Council on many occasions has called for administration recommendations regarding impact fees, urging a partnership to resolve this issue.  I recognize that the detailed listing of recommendations received on two occasions recently from the Planning Department did not necessarily represent administration approval of this impact fee proposal, but it would seem to reflect a willingness to work with Council and to discuss a controversial topic.  I would have anticipated that the Council would be willing to advance that discussion rather than cut it short.

Impact Fees, if adopted, would not suddenly make the County healthy.  It would, however, permit the County to employ a funding mechanism which has proven successful in communities nationwide.  Failure to pass this legislation either dooms County residents to continued shortfalls in essential facilities or insures that higher taxes will be the only remedy available to correct those deficiencies.  Those taxes affect all residents; rich, poor, and everyone in-between, not just those that cause the increased impact.

Simply put, the defeat of the Impact Fee legislation translates into higher taxes for all or inadequate infrastructure.  Disappointing to say the least.  Our residents deserve better.

A final comment:  In the aftermath of this vote, I fear the perception will linger that the Council remains more concerned about potential election results than resolving key issues.  Ask yourselves:  when will the Council take the lead and make the tough decisions?? I believe we missed a great opportunity on 21 September.

Pete Hoffman  

Councilman Pete Hoffman Observations on the Results of the Budget Struggles

Councilman Pete Hoffman

Councilman Pete Hoffman

Media Release:

Happy New Fiscal Year (2011-2012) to you all. The County has managed to stumble into July and has survived the budget struggles of the past two months. Permit me a few observations on the results and the process:

  • The Mayor’s 5 May becomes effective today, 1 July. It is a balanced budget, but doesn’t save anything as far as expenses are concerned. It defers some liabilities. There’s nothing wrong with that, so long as the total deferments are not too large, and we don’t encourage this as a habit. I think we are reasonably on solid ground at least in this fiscal year, but we shouldn’t use GASB-45 as a ‘bill-payer’ again next year. One can only wonder why the Mayor would use GASB-45 deferments as the centerpiece of his budget balancing act this year, when he was so stubbornly opposed to this same suggestion that I made previously? If we had adopted this recommendation, we might not have had to raise property tax rates.
  • Unlike a few of my Council colleagues who expressed indignation at the Corporation Counsel’s letters about the amended budget, I see this as another example of mayoral politics. Let’s face it, the Mayor won this battle, let’s move on. No one associated with the budget process or with the County Charter can find anything illegal in what the Council did. Unprecedented perhaps, but hardly illegal. County residents were treated to some political ‘smoke and mirrors’ and as a result the veto could not be overridden.
  • It’s hard to fathom why the Mayor could not or would not exercise some discretion on the Council’s amended budget. There seemed to be at least a few Council amendments that should have been ‘saved’. But it appears to many that the Mayor’s message is simply: “do it my way or not at all”. Sad to think this poses as effective leadership for our County. Of course, we can revisit some of the issues during the coming months (the Police radio proposal for example), but why go through the process once again? This is not the spirit of cooperation anticipated from the Mayor nor is it good management. County residents deserve better.
  • I am pleased to see that the Mayor is recommending some flexibility in regard to furloughs in the coming years. Both the Council and administration are not willing as yet to face the 800-pound gorilla in the room, i.e. reductions in staff. If economic conditions do not improve, this must be addressed. Let me repeat, I do not advocate any reductions at this time, however, it is utter nonsense to talk about real savings if we do not include a reduction in personnel costs from that equation. Furloughs seem to be one alternative. Some won’t admit it, but the County’s ‘Furlough Friday Program’ of the past two years brought savings to County taxpayers, did not result in any significant reduction in County services, and County employees retained their jobs, and perhaps as important, their medical and other benefits. I believe this is the direction the County must pursue and I’m pleased to see the Mayor make the effort.
  • There is another aspect of the budget battle that should be mentioned. It came up briefly in yesterday’s Council discussions, but I think it failed to register on many. The Council had recommended that any savings that might occur in the on-going union negotiations be used to offset the GASB-45 deferment. It is unknown if any reductions in salaries/personnel costs will be achieved in this fiscal year. The mayor’s budget fully funded the current payroll scale for all County employees so there is some hope that actual expenses will be less. I trust that if some savings are realized, the Mayor will act on the Council’s recommendation and some payment made to the GASB-45 account.

In summary, let’s get on with business. There’s much to be done and although this budget is finished, the County’s economic distress remains. I continue to hope that when addressing these issues in the coming months, ALL will emphasize leadership and the best interests of our County residents and leave politics and political agendas behind. I trust I am not too optimistic.

PETE HOFFMANN

Big Island Councilman Pete Hoffman… “COOPERATION SAYONORA”

Council Pete Hoffman

Councilman Pete Hoffman - "COOPERATION SAYONORA"

Guest Commentary:

Using the recent budget discussions as a background, I had hoped that the Mayor would recognize the opportunity that presented itself for establishing a cooperative relationship with the Council. Unfortunately, that didn’t occur. I’ll admit I’m wasn’t completely surprised, but I am disappointed that the administration resorts to “political theater” once again to resolve relatively minor budget changes.

We’ve heard on numerous occasions the Mayor clearly state that he seeks a new cooperation with the Council. I can’t imagine a better occasion to initiate this spirit. Consider the circumstances: the Council managed to amend the Mayor’s budget totaling $367M by less than $11M. That’s less than a 3% change. Despite all the discussion and the back and forth surrounding one or two emotional topics, that alteration is quite small. I’m sorry the Mayor didn’t call a press conference, declare victory, and thank the Council for agreeing with 97% of his budget submission. I think 97% is a good acceptance rate.

The Mayor has indicated that his veto is not a political one but rather based on the legality of the Council’s efforts to amend the budget for $5.8M. In that amendment, the Council directed the administration take the funds from the Other Current Expense Accounts that are scattered throughout the various departments. The Corporation Counsel now believes that the amended budget has “numerous legal infirmities.” I expressed my concerns regarding this amendment at the time of the budget hearings, but not on legal grounds. Personally, I would rather have had the Council specify the source of those funds, but I voted for the amendment because the past history of such Council efforts during this administration met with no success. On this occasion, I felt perhaps that the administration could identify the source of such funds itself. At no time during the budget discussion, did I or other Council members believe that what we were doing was ‘illegal’, nor did we ever hear from the Corporation Counsel that such actions might be in violation of the charter. Let’s remember, we considered this amendment on 18 May. Now a month later, the Council is informed there could be problems.

One should also remember that in our County system, the Corporation Counsel is the lawyer for both the Mayor/administration and the County Council. I have always wondered how you can serve the proverbial two masters at the same time, and this is an instance where this might lead to real/imagined difficulties. We are told that the Council should have sought legal opinion before introducing the $5.8M amendment. But since the Corporation Counsel is also supposed to be the County Council’s lawyer, one might wonder why the lawyers didn’t raise this issue to the Council Chair, at least before the budget was passed at second reading on 1 June? The Mayor comments that perhaps the Council should have asked the question first. A visitor from somewhere other than Hawaii County would be forgiven from giggling uncontrollably at this point. So much for a cooperative spirit.

Whether the Council votes to override the Mayor’s veto or not, County residents are being treated to another in a series of political dramas that tend to reflect badly on all participants. Effective government demands better leadership. I think the Council and administration had that opportunity a short time ago, but that opportunity has slipped through everyone’s fingers. Apparently, something about the budget process seems to generate less than a collaborative effort by Council and the administration. Our residents deserve better.

PETE HOFFMANN

Councilman Hoffman on Tsunami Sirens and Effective Leadership

Commentary by Councilman Pete Hoffman:

There are times when one wonders whether anyone listens.  Part of the problem may be a lack of communication, or perhaps a lack of understanding of perhaps a lack of leadership.  You decide which of these applies in the recent tsunami siren debacle.

In December 2009, my office initiated discussions with County Civil Defense to address obvious shortfalls in tsunami siren coverage in our resort areas in West Hawaii, brought to my attention by a Puna resident.  A little research also noted that our County code had no requirements for such an early warning system.  The first “tsunami drill” of 26 Feb 2010 highlighted these deficiencies in an actual evacuation, and shortly thereafter, my office prepared a draft amendment to our code to address this issue.

The proposed legislation was referred to both the Planning Commissions, where last November and December, it was met with less than an enthusiastic reception.  The Planning Director criticized the draft proposal on several counts:  this effort shouldn’t be part of the plan approval process, State and County Civil Defense should administer the program, and maybe we shouldn’t inconvenience a developer with the associated costs of installing such a system. Both Planning Commissions gave my proposal a negative recommendation and sent it back to Council for further action.

Now I’ve been a Council member long enough to appreciate that there are many possibilities to address issues of this nature.  I have no difficulty if the Planning Director and the Commissions didn’t agree with my suggestions for resolving the issue, but someone please offer alternatives.  However, none were provided.  When the draft returned to the Council’s Planning Committee in January, I urged the administration to work on some viable options.  Several coastal communities were without an obvious public safety mechanism, our County code included no such requirements, and we already had one tsunami evacuation to prove that my concern was not science fiction.  My pleas fell on deaf ears.  I received ‘thunderous silence’ from the administration.  The only response noted was to suggest that the State should pay for the sirens, and that my proposal did not work with the Planning Department’s plan review process.

Personally, I really didn’t care who pays for the installation of the sirens.  The real questions remained: when will the sirens be installed and when will a requirement be established?  Surely I couldn’t be the only one who saw this issue.  Where was the administration’s initiative?  Where was effective leadership demonstrated?  And please, let’s stop the bureaucratic double-talk and concentrate on the shortfall.

In mid-February, after continuing to plead for the administration’s assistance in crafting a bill that would meet its criticisms, the Council’s Planning Committee, frustrated with the administration’s lack of action, approved my proposal sending it to full Council by a vote of 6-3.   Finally, we heard voices from the administration that the Council’s concerns would now be considered.

On 1 March, State Civil Defense went out on bid to install a number of new civil defense sirens on the Big Island not merely in tsunami evacuation zones.  These would include sirens in areas along the coast where none previously existed: among others, two at Mauna Lani, two in the Waikoloa resort area and one at Kona Village.   On 2 March, we were told that an alternative proposal would be drafted to address the deficiency in our code regarding siren requirements.  This flurry of activity did precede the second ‘tsunami drill’ on March 11, and generated a renewed urgency regarding this topic.  The new administration proposal has already been placed on both Planning Commission agendas in April and May, and it can be anticipated that the long-sought alternative will be brought to Council sometime in early June.

The route taken in the effort has been torturous. Would that all tsunamis react with the same ‘glacial speed’ as this legislative process, but at least it is moving forward.  We pride ourselves, with good reason, on the effectiveness of the County’s response to both of the tsunami evacuations and how all assisted.  However, the fact remains that we had thirteen hours and five and a half hours warning respectively.  Would we have been so fortunate if we only had one or two hours notice??  While this issue is finally being addressed and sirens will eventually be installed, after some 15 months of discussion the situation today is: there are significant shortfalls in siren coverage in our resort areas, and no requirement has yet been established for new developments in our code.  Let’s hope for better leadership and let’s pray we don’t have a “third tsunami drill” in which our reaction time would be dramatically reduced as it was in Japan.

Budget Observations by Councilman Hoffman… “We are currently in that ‘Never-Never-Land’ “

Commentary By Councilman Pete Hoffman:

We are currently in that ‘never-never-land’ that prevails immediately prior to the publication of the first draft of the County budget.  When good years reigned, few people bothered with the specifics.  A sense of optimism surrounded the process, and while budget discipline might not have been completely ignored, neither was it a subject of importance.  After all why worry excessively over any number of vacant funded positions?

Now in our third year of significant economic difficulty, budget preparations take on a whole different meaning, particularly when further wage reductions and even layoffs are real possibilities.  Let’s be certain we don’t misstate this situation: the Mayor and the administration did not cause this recession.  It isn’t their fault.  At the same time, it’s hard not to overlook the obvious.  A few Council members have continuously argued for pro-active measures to address the County’s economy over the past two years.  While these proposals would not have solved the economic downturn completely, implementation of some of these suggestions would have greatly improved our current situation.  Instead, the decisions that will be made for the next fiscal year may prove more onerous for us all.

Regardless of the short-term ‘fixes’ the administration and Council will debate in connection with the 2011-2012 budget, there are a couple of longer-range proposals that should be adopted immediately.  I’ve mentioned these previously, on several occasions, and they have been met with ‘thunderous silence’.  In my opinion, there should be a top-to-bottom review of our property tax system.  The disparities of the current tax structure need fundamental reform.  I recognize this may not be an overly popular topic, but to continue the maze of tax rates, exemptions, and other aspects that inflict our current tax structure is to continue to promote a system that does not adequately address present day or future budgetary requirements.

Second, this County must institute a complete reassessment of property values, particularly for industrial, commercial and resort properties.  This review should be made by professional consultants outside the

County administration. We aren’t receiving anywhere near the tax revenues we should from these properties.  I can hear the cries already, “you will hurt business!!” Nonsense.  It’s time we understood that County taxpayers cannot continue this form of ‘corporate subsidy’.  The least we should do is to assess other property categories at approximately the same rate as residential properties.  When some resort and commercial interests are assessed at 50% of market value and residential homes are assessed at 80/90%, something needs adjustment.

Once again, it is a matter of fairness, but more importantly, these are potential revenue sources into which the County should expand.  If these recommendations were adopted two years ago, we would be in less economic ‘doo-doo’ then we are today.  Don’t misinterpret.  To enact measures like these demand the ability and commitment to make tough decisions.  Not everyone will be pleased.  However, I assure you not all will be pleased with the measures needed to handle next fiscal year’s budget either.  The question is when do we start to make the changes needed to correct this situation?  The longer we wait, the harder the decisions will be in the coming years.  I strongly suggest that as part of any budget ordinance for 2011-2012, property tax reform and a property assessment review be part and parcel of that document.  If the Council and administration are committed to correcting years of neglect in these areas, the time to do so is now.

How Impact Fees Impact Me Meetings Moved to Februrary

As many of you may know Councilman Pete Hoffman suffered a heart attack last week.  I just received the following notice regarding the impact fee meetings that were scheduled have now been moved to February.

Media Release:

The January community meetings in District 6 to discuss impact fees with Councilmembers Brittany Smart and Pete Hoffmann have been moved to February.

“How Impact Fees Impact Me” meetings will be

  • February 9th at Yano Hall 6:30p.m.
  • February 10th at Cooper Center 7:00p.m.
  • February 17th at Pahala Community Center 7:00p.m.*
  • February 23rd at Na’alehu Community Center 7:00p.m.*

*Previously, the meetings in Pahala and Na’alehu were scheduled for January.

Vice Chairman Pete Hoffmann will speak on how the proposed impact fee system is designed to enable our County government to impose such fees, the flexibility inherent in this system, how the rates can apply, as well as the constraints of such a capability. Questions from the audience are encouraged and light refreshments will be provided.

Contact: Jen at (808) 961-8536 or district6@co.hawaii.hi.us for more info.

Councilmember Smart and Hoffman Present: “How Impact Fees Impact Me” Community Meetings

Media Release:

“How Impact Fees Impact Me” With Hawaii County Councilmember Brittany Smart and Guest Speaker, Councilmember Pete Hoffmann

  • January 26th 7:00pm Na’alehu Community Center Club House
  • January 27th 7:00pm Pahala Community Center Club House
  • February 9th 6:30pm Yano Hall, Kona
  • February 10th 7:00pm Cooper Center , Volcano

Come to a community meeting organized by Councilmember Brittany Smart regarding the proposed impact fee ordinance.  The meeting will assist the public to better understand the impact fee system and how it will ensure that those responsible for developments will bear a proportionate share of the cost of improvements to our public facilities on the Big Island . Councilmember Pete Hoffmann will speak on how the proposed impact fee system is designed to enable our County government to impose such fees, the flexibility inherent in this system, how the rates can apply, as well as the constraints of such a capability.  Questions from the audience are most welcomed.  Light pupus and soft drinks will be served.

Contact: Jen at (808) 961-8536 or district6@co.hawaii.hi.us for more info.

Councilman Hoffman “Observations on a Bond Float”

“The County Council action to delay final approval of the administration-proposed $56M bond float so that the in-coming Council can discuss the matter is a proper decision in my opinion.  Although I am a firm advocate of using the bond-issuing power of County government, so long as it is judiciously handled and does not endanger the County’s bond rating (and I do support most of the Mayor’s arguments even in the current appalling economic crisis), it was apparent that a clear majority of residents felt the new Council should be given the opportunity to debate the issue.

 

Councilman Pete Hoffman

Apart from this aspect, the bond float debate is a microcosm of several disturbing matters that have plagued the Council and administration for the past two years.  The following lists some of those concerns:

Despite significant public testimony to the contrary, the administration continued to ‘stonewall’ any opposing recommendation and forged ahead with no attempt at a compromise or cooperative solution.  It appears the Mayor simply doesn’t appreciate the depth of current public irritation.  When will the administration recognize that too many residents have lost fundamental trust and confidence in the Council and his administration?

Some of the public’s displeasure regarding the float might have been tempered if the administration amended Bill 311 to include a breakdown of funds requested by specific project.  Need I point out there’s an underlying element of transparency, or absence of it, manifested throughout this debate?

Too many e-mails as well as oral testimony indicate a real lack of understanding of the bond float process and the nature of the County’s financial liability.  That misunderstanding generates incorrect assumptions and conclusions County-wide.  The fault lies with both the Council and administration.  Both entities, I feel, have a responsibility to better explain/educate the public on matters of this nature.  Failure to do so leads to bad input and does nothing to enhance the effectiveness of public participation.  This is similar to many misperceptions regarding the County’s operating budget, the impact fee proposal, zoning issues, etc.

Politics and political agendas are part of government at any level.  Right or wrong, the inclusion of some of the projects mentioned as part of the float, were viewed by many individuals only as an effort to enhance the political futures of two Council members engaged in close campaigns during the recent General Election.  Whether one accepts that view or not, the perception remained and the administration did little to dispel that feeling.  I suggest that in these difficult economic conditions, the Mayor and Council refrain from using the budget and related topics as a political battleground and work towards true cooperation. For certain, the public would be better served.

As noted previously, the 30 November Council decision to delay final determination on Bill 311 serves many practical purposes.  I’m optimistic that the new Council will see this as an opportunity to set a positive tone for the next two years.  In the same vein, I would encourage the administration to alter its prior approach to the Council and work to eliminate the sense of frustration and irritation that prevails in the public domain.  The County’s needs are too pressing to continue to have our constituents voice a lack of trust and confidence in their elected officials.”

Councilman Pete Hoffman

TODAY: ONLINE Meeting With Hoffman, Pilago and Yagong

ONLINE MEETING With Hoffman, Pilago and Yagong

Big Island residents are invited to call in and be part of the show for this live broadcast via the internet on www.bigislandlive.com. Calls will be taken at (808)-769-0998. This edition of Big Island Live will be hosted by Kristine Kubat. Pete Hoffmann will be first up at 5:30, and he will be talking about the proposed restructuring of the County Council. Joining him will be former council chairman, Angel Pilago. There is a public hearing coming up on September 14th about the restructuring. Callers should limit their questions to this subject.

Next up is Dominic Yagong, and he will be addressing the proposed sale of the Hamakua Sugar lands that the county acquired in 1994 for delinquent taxes from Hamakua Sugar Company. This sale will be addressed in the upcoming council meeting in Kona. Again callers should try to limit their questions to this subject.

*UPDATE* THIS SUNDAY @ 5:30 Call In for Live Internet Interviews With Councilman Dominic Yagong and Pete Hoffman Joined by Angel Pilago – TOWN HALLS ONLINE?

Media Release:

Big Island residents are invited to call in THIS SUNDAY, August 16th  @ 5:30 pm and be part of the show for this live broadcast via the internet on www.bigislandlive.com. Calls will be taken at (808)-769-0998. This edition of Big Island Live will be hosted by Kristine Kubat.

Pete Hoffmann will be first up at 5:30, and he will be talking about the proposed restructuring of the County Council.   Joining him will be former council chairman, Angel Pilago.  There is a public hearing coming up on September 14th about the restructuring. Callers should limit their questions to this subject.

Next up is Dominic Yagong, and he will be addressing the proposed sale of the Hamakua Sugar lands that the county acquired in 1994 for delinquent taxes from Hamakua Sugar Company. This sale will be addressed in the upcoming council meeting in Kona.  Again callers should try to limit their questions to this subject.

Locally produced shows, such as surf footage, music videos and interviews with prominent Hawaiian figures and kupuna will also air after the interviews, and be available for download.

The network will eventually bring to the viewer live news breaking stories as they happen on the Big Island.

If you have an idea for a show,  please contact  Big Island Live at (808)-327-9659

The Big Island Live Broadcasting Network is dedicated to the people of Hawaii, providing an outlet for multimedia coverage of breaking news and live entertainment on the Big Island of Hawaii.