Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi and former Mayor Harry Kim met in a candidate forum Monday evening at Kealakehe High School. Moderator Sherry Bracken started the questioning by asking Kim to be specific about previous statements that he’s unhappy with the way government is being run.
Kim cited two examples: the Community Development Plans and geothermal development.
Kim says he does not feel the current administration is supportive enough of the Community Development Plans, which are part of the General Plan. He says it’s an attitude. He says people in Planning and Building Departments need to receive more training on the Community Development Plans. The law requiring CDPs was passed while Kim was Mayor. Kenoi said there are now supported CDPs islandwide—Kona, North Kohala, South Kohala, Ka’u, Hamakua, Puna. In Hilo, the Downtown Hilo Improvement Association has developed a specific plan for the downtown area. Kenoi acknowledged the idea and law for CDPs was passed under the Kim administration, but says his administration under Planning Director Bobbie Jean Leithead-Todd has gone forward to implement projects. He did say there is not enough money right now in county coffers to complete every project each district wants, but they’ve tried to do some that each district’s CDPs request. In a previous forum, Kim cited a letter sent to the Administration asking for changes in the Kona CDP as evidence the work wasn’t being done properly. However, separate from Monday’s forum, Kona CDP Chair said that once the issues were brought to Leithead-Todd’s attention, she submitted changes to the Hawaii County Code to address the CDP Action Team’s concerns.
Regarding geothermal development, Kim and Kenoi both say they support geothermal development being done safely. Kim says the State is usurping the County’s authority to regulate geothermal development, and says as Mayor he can lobby the state to keep safety controls in place.
One point of contention is that Kim feels his administration is responsible for getting the Ane Keohokalole Highway, often called the mid-level road, to be a reality. Kenoi disputed that, saying the road was a line item as a future project when he took office, but with the assistance of Senator Daniel K. Inouye, the Kenoi administration was able to secure 100% federal funding for the project and actually get it done. He said the Federal Highways Administration reps were impressed the County could meet their requirements to be shovel ready to secure the funding and then complete the project on time and on budget within a year. Kenoi said they were actually under budget so added an additional mile of paved road.
The Kohala Coast Resort Association, one of the sponsors, had submitted a question regarding what the Mayor can do and will do to support the island’s biggest industry, tourism. Kim focused on resort development and having resorts honor the island’s beauty. Kenoi said he felt the Mayor’s job, and what he had done and would continue to do, was to work with key businesses in the industry to get more tourism here. He cited his advocacy with Hawaiian Airlines and other airlines to fix what industry experts say is the key problem, and that’s getting more planes flying passengers in. Kenoi also said his budget has also continued to fund support to market the visitor industry.
Kim said he does not feel having department heads in West Hawaii, as Kenoi has done, is useful. He said County Government will run more smoothly if all the department heads are in Hilo at 25 Aupuni Center. He also said he would go to other parts of the island “as needed.” Kenoi said he’s proud of having Department Heads stationed in both Hilo and at the West Hawaii Civic Center. He requires all Department Heads to be in both Kona and Hilo at least once a week, to ensure the community members have close-by access to top management in government. He said if elected to a second term, he would continue his practice of spending at least one day a week at his office at the West Hawaii Civic Center and in meeting constituents to hear their concerns at the other island communities.
The Mayor candidates will meet again Friday at Waikoloa School at 6 p.m. in a forum that will also include the candidates for County Council for Kohala, Sonny Shimaoka and Margaret Wille. Each will also be a guest on the Island Issues program. Kim is scheduled for Sunday morning, October 14, at 6:30 a.m. on KKOA 107.7 fm and at 8 a.m. on LAVA 105.3 fm. Kenoi is scheduled for October 21, at the same times. Those interviews will also be posted to www.bigislandnewscenter.com, down on the right.
Monday night’s debate will air tonight, Tuesday, on KLEI TV Channel 6 at 8 p.m. and on Saturday at 6 p.m. The event also included the candidates for County Prosecutor, Lincoln Ashida and Mitch Roth.