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Insights PBS Hawai‘i

Insights PBS Hawai‘i

Original article published on August 18, 2016 at PBS Hawaii

Harry Kim, who previously served two terms as Hawaii County’s Mayor, will be returning to the seat, with a 51.6% outright win during last weekend’s Primary Election. Hawaii County’s Mayoral race was a crowded one, with 13 candidates vying for the office. Kim is scheduled to appear for this discussion.

The show’s second half will focus on State House District 44, covering the Leeward Oahu neighborhoods of Waianae, Makaha and a portion of Maili. Democratic candidate Cedric Gates beat out incumbent Jo Jordan, the only incumbent to lose her seat during the primary. Gates faces Republican Marc Paaluhi in the General Election. Gates and Paaluhi are scheduled to appear for this candidate discussion.

Mahalo from the Kim family

Mahalo from the Kim family

This is Harry Kim. This mayor’s campaign started months ago with thirteen individuals, mostly strangers to each other with differences in ideas and priorities. It did not take long before friendships developed and of a common bond, the love and care of our island home.

To all voters, thank you. To those who have carried my campaign, nothing I say can express my feelings of gratitude, and no matter how much is said, it is not enough. My aloha to you all. This mahalo is from the Kim family.

This ad is paid for by Harry Kim, P.O. Box 626, Hilo, HI, 96721.

Harry Kim re-elected to become Hawaii Island’s mayor

Harry Kim re-elected to become Hawaii Island’s mayor

Original article published at KHON.
By Manolo Morales
Published: August 14, 2016, 4:38 pm Updated: August 14, 2016, 6:15 pm

The Hawaii County mayor’s office was up for grabs in Saturday’s primary election as current Mayor Billy Kenoi has reached his term limit, and a majority of voters put former mayor Harry Kim back in office.

Kim won with more than 50 percent of the vote, so that island’s mayoral race will not have a runoff in November’s general election.

The work is still ahead for Kim and he was asked at his Hilo campaign party what the priorities are for him when he takes office.

“After a couple of days, I’m not going to think, but the first thing I’ve got to go over mentally and make a list of people I can count on and talk to people,” he said. “because there’s work to be done. I didn’t run because I want the job, there’s work to be done. This whole state is facing crisis, whether it be homeless or other things. It’s a whole lifestyle the whole state is facing.

“There’s other big issues that we have to address. I need good people around me. They only have one mission, make things better,” he said.

Big Island Now Mayoral Candidate Forum

Big Island Now Mayoral Candidate Forum Q & A

1. Public Funds:

What concrete steps would you take as mayor to ensure that future administrations, including your own, do not violate ethics rules pertaining to use of public funds?

The policies in effect are quite adequate to ensure that public funds are used according to law. Concrete steps to be taken include: never violate ethics rules by ensuring that all appointees and employees are trained to know the rules; establish an accountable system to monitor receipts and expenditures; and promote and ensure that all records are made available on request.

2. Transparent Spending:

What would you do to increase transparency of administration spending, so that the public can readily see how their dollars are being used by their chief executive?

The best way is to establish an atmosphere that encourages availability of information, especially to the media. The media is the public’s watch dog. A system can be developed to make scheduled and easily accessible spending information to all.

3. Building Permit Process:

Contractors and homeowners are reporting wait times of three to six months for building permits. With construction forming such a large component of our economy, what solutions would you promote to streamline the permit process and what sources of funding would be used?

We need to understand that the basic purpose of the building permit system is public safety, and that any streamlining does not compromise the safety of the ultimate users over profit or convenience. This is an issue that needs continuous attention and help by the private sector working together with the government regulators. This has been an ongoing problem that gets worse as codes change and construction heats up. We need to evaluate what has been tried by past administrations to not reinvent the wheel or repeat past failures. We need to talk with contractors, consultants, and plan reviewers to identify and understand the bottlenecks. We need to research and talk with other jurisdictions to see what has worked elsewhere. It could be as simple as clear checklists for consistent reviews and sorting systems to fast-track “easier” projects, or more complicated systems employing sophisticated technology. We would test promising ideas, to refine by doing and not endless brainstorming. It would be premature to discuss funding until the solutions are determined. But the emphasis would be to improve the workflow efficiency rather than to add more employees. If expensive technology needs to be purchased, this could be included in the capital budget to pay by bonds and spread the repayment over time since this would have a long-term benefit.

4. Thirty Meter Telescope:

Do you feel the construction of the TMT will be a net positive or net negative for the Big Island community and explain your reasoning.

The TMT project can be a net positive for Hawai‘i and the universal community. This stems from the continuous quest for knowledge and with that knowledge, make this a better place and better people. The problem of where we are on the TMT project is not of just Mauna Kea, but how we have generally developed this very special place. Issues of culture, of nature, of sensitivity to people and lifestyle, had been so disrespected and disregarded. We need not look far for many examples of this. The Kohanaiki development in Kona is an example of people, who had been in conflict for many years, coming together. The main factor in achieving this was their true will to resolve the issue. “Do not look at Mauna Kea as just a place of science. To others, past and present, it is part of their soul,” I had advised the UH when they first considered development of Mauna Kea. I do believe that the TMT project can be a net positive for the people of this world. This project can be a symbol of countries– China, India, USA, Canada, and Japan– working together in a very special place in this quest for knowledge. This project can also be such a beautiful star of hope for resolving differences based on a true partnership of people. What better place than Hawai‘i, the home of warmth and aloha, to be the model for the world. This I believe can be done, but only if we have the desire.

5. Homelessness:

List actionable steps that can be taken to help resolve the island-wide homeless crisis, and include funding sources for your solutions.

The homeless crisis is the end result of Hawai‘i developing an economic situation that places so many in a constant struggle of basic survival. The growing number of homeless is frightening; even more frightening is the population at risk of becoming homeless as they live paycheck to paycheck to meet expenses with very little hope for the American Dream. Actionable steps include:

  • Create one-stop friendly places to service those who seek help. Such a place has been created in Kona. We need a similar place in Hilo and other areas where the homeless congregate. The Kona facility was built with assistance from the private sector. We should seek such partnerships for future facilities to involve and recognize community-wide participation to resolve this issue.
  • Create transition homes and support programs for families with children. As much as possible, we need to provide transitional shelter opportunities for families as a special group of the homeless population. We would need to partner with nonprofits and faith organizations to build and operate such facilities.
  • Create central sanitary and comfortable shelter places for those who remain to stay on the street. We need to coordinate with the State who may have land and/or funding initiatives that apply to this segment of the homeless population.
  • Create affordable rentals for the hidden, at-risk homeless. We need innovative nonprofit developers to assist in developing rental projects that are affordable to the lower income groups. This requires the County to actively seek out such developers and coordinate where needed.
  • The long-term solution is to raise the level of skills through our education system, to diversify employment opportunities, to recognize employers who care about their employees, and to diversify housing choices.

6. Tax Revenues:

An increase in the G.E. tax was proposed by the current mayor. Where do you stand on introducing new tax revenue sources during the next administration? If you plan on targeting the state’s share of the Transient Accommodations Tax, how would you realistically increase our county’s share of that revenue source? 

The G.E. tax is the worse tax system in the U.S. This is a regressive tax that should be changed in the long term, not increased. A regressive tax takes a larger percentage of income from low-income earners than from high-income earners. The immediate strategy should not be to seek new tax revenue sources, rather to reduce the “direct tax rate” imposed on Hawai‘i’s people. A direct tax, such as property taxes, is one that cannot be passed on such as the G.E. tax that is passed on from the seller to the consumer. One means to reduce the direct tax burden is to receive a larger share of the TAT tax revenues. The counties’ share should be based on a formula that considers the counties’ role in the visitor’s experience. Without a formula, the counties must beg each year. The formula should be based on a study requested by the State Legislature but not followed. Besides lobbying together, the counties should take the findings of that report, translate the impact of not receiving their due share of the TAT and the impact on what the property tax or improved programs could have been with a fair share of the TAT revenues, and use that information to rally the support of constituents.

7.Services and Spending:

How do you feel about our current level of services vs. spending? If we were to face a funding shortfall during the next administration, would you raise taxes or cut programs, and if so, what/how?

These are some principles that I would follow in setting budgets and tax rates that try to anticipate financial situations and avoid year to year reactionary responses:

  • Try to determine an optimum level of service. We would try to do this based on objective standards to the extent reasonable. For example, how large should the police force be? Perhaps we could develop an acceptable standard based on the number of officers per 1000 persons. But developing those standards may not be simple. For example, if we based the adequate number of police officers only on population, large sparsely populated areas of our island such as Ka’u would not have the number of officers to respond within an acceptable response time. The standards should also give more weight to public health and safety, and other critical needs.
  • In good times, maintain and not increase the optimum level of service and allocate any “surplus” to Rainy Day funds, disaster emergency funds, or retirement obligations. Reduce tax rates if projections forecast surpluses in upcoming years. When times are bad, the Rainy Day fund would enable maintaining the optimum level of service without increasing taxes.
  • Control fixed expenses. Control salaries by establishing an optimum employment size. Control utility and vehicular costs through renewable energy source investments. Control debt by limiting bond funding to prudent percentages of conservative revenue projections.
  • Acknowledging the limited debt funding capacity, carefully prioritize capital projects with input from the community.
  • Encourage development in the right places. Viable communities can increase property values. Higher tax values generate more revenue without increasing tax rates.
  • Control the burden on homeowners. As property values increase, the previous administration established a cap on the tax increase to spread the impact over time for situations where the values dramatically increase.
  • Determine fair tax burdens. Close loop holes that may exist. For example, if agricultural incentives are being abused, there should be reform. The additional revenues generated by closing loop holes avoid the need to raise tax rates on others.

8. Nextera Merger:

What are your thoughts on the proposed NextEra merger with Hawaii Electric Company (HECO)? Do you support efforts to halt that process in favor of a public-owned (Co-op) utility model?

As it is now known, this is a mute question as the PUC wisely rejected the merger. My support would be to organize a knowledgeable working group with only one mission: to review and recommend the best alternative to meet the long-term power needs of this State.

Doctor Shortage:

How can the county government help to resolve this pervasive problem?

This is a problem faced by most rural communities across the nation. The County government must be involved in all aspects of this problem. The County can take a leadership role to bring people together, encourage innovative solutions, and find resources. The residency program is an example of how the community was very instrumental in saving this program for Hawai‘i Island.

Hilo Landfill:

The Hilo landfill is at or approaching safe capacity levels and could face closure during the next administration if changes are not made. Various solutions have been proposed, including re-routing waste to West Hawaii and the construction of a waste-to-energy plant. What direction would pursue as mayor?

The County administration is required to follow the “Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan.” The current plan in effect committed the County to a policy of “zero waste” and encourage actions towards reducing, reusing, and recycling. This 2009 plan was to be updated every five years, but State law changed the requirement to 10 years. Updating the plan should be a high priority of the next administration. This update should consist of appointing a citizens committee with diverse interests, and providing them with the best information and expertise to establish the most appropriate and sustainable action plan for our County.

Harry Kim’s Third Radio Message

This is Harry Kim with a message for Hawaii Island.  In all the years of working for you in Civil Defense and your Mayor, the concerns most often expressed by people is the hope that issues addressed by leadership will be done fairly, with openness, no politics and based on what is best for the community.

From the beginning, the commitment made to you was of a government that will be of integrity, of trust, and of what is right by law. This will be. To those who have on their own given so much in carrying this campaign, know that no matter how much I say in expressing my gratitude, it will not be enough. Thank you.

In the time left I will work as hard as I can in seeking the job as your mayor, not for a job but to do the job as you expect it to be done.  To do this I continue to need your help. Thank you for listening and have a safe day.  This is paid for by Harry Kim for Mayor, P.O. Box 626, Hilo Hawaii 96721.

Andy Levin – Stumping for Kim

Andy Levin – Stumping for Kim

Original article published in West Hawaii Today July 22, 2016

I had the honor of representing much of West Hawaii in the Hawaii State Senate for 12 years. In that capacity, and as Harry Kim’s executive director for eight years while he was mayor, I have a perspective on county and state government which I hope will be of some value as readers make their choices for Primary Election Day, Aug. 13.

Many people are cynical about government because it is so political, that the system is “rigged” as some candidates would describe it. Decisions seem to be made on the basis of who you know, rather than on the merits. That is often a correct judgment, but that is never the case with Harry Kim. Harry has a rule: “No politics allowed.” And the wonderful thing is that he means it. In eight years as mayor, and before that, two decades keeping the island safe as the head of Civil Defense, I don’t think he ever based a decision on anything other than the merits of what was best for the people of Hawaii. There surely were decisions he made that one might disagree with, but no one could ever question the purity of his motives.

One of Harry’s main goals as mayor was to heal the rift that existed between East and West Hawaii, and he worked hard on that every day. That was why he upgraded the West Hawaii liaison position to deputy managing director, and laid the groundwork for such things as the West Hawaii Civic Center and Ane Keohokalole Highway. By the way, if Harry’s administration had not done the planning for that highway, it never would have been eligible for the federal funding it received.

Harry is an amazing combination of tough and humble. He’s the hardest worker you’ll find, and he demands the best from his staff at all times. He wants to be mayor again because of a simple belief that democracy requires that people have faith in their government, and he knows he can deliver that.

Special interests? Forget it. Buying the election? You must be kidding.

What other candidate limits contributions to $10 per person, and returns donations that go higher than that? The $10 limit means fewer ads touting Harry’s accomplishments, but Harry always believed that, if you do your work, people will recognize it. Sure enough, that is how he got elected mayor twice over, despite being outspent by enormous amounts.

There are a number of good people running for mayor. I have nothing negative to say about any of them. But there is one very special candidate out there, and that is Harry Kim. It would be a real loss to not take advantage of his willingness to serve again.

Andy Levin is a resident of Volcano

Council backpedals on county band issue

Council backpedals on county band issue
Original article published July 8, 2016 – 12:05am in The Hawaii Tribune Herald

With a room full of supporters at their back, former Mayor Harry Kim and former Senior Deputy Corporation Counsel Joe Kamelamela pleaded Thursday with the County Council to keep the county band in the county charter.

The council was poised to send a charter amendment to the ballot that would remove references to the county band in order to eliminate an outdated provision that made the bands in Hilo and Kona exempt from civil service provisions. A state law preempted those provisions in the mid-1990s.

The ballot amendment would put to the voters a question that last year was unanimously passed by the council in three hearings and signed by Mayor Billy Kenoi.

But a crowd of band members and their supporters was enough to persuade council members to change their minds. The council voted 7-2 to postpone, effectively killing the measure’s chances of getting on the ballot.

“There were unintended consequences that I never saw,” said Puna Councilman Greggor Ilagan.

He and Kohala Councilwoman Margaret Wille were the no votes, saying they preferred to kill the measure outright instead.

Ilagan pushed to have the ordinance repealed at future meetings.

“We made a mistake on this one,” said South Kona/Ka‘u Councilwoman Maile David.

Council Chairman Dru Kanuha, who introduced Resolution 549 directing the clerk to put the language on the ballot, called it a “simple housekeeping measure.”

But band supporters — and they were legion — worried the simple housekeeping measure would have dire consequences for the 133-year-old county band.

“This, quote, ‘housekeeping measure’ is really a wrecking ball to the band,” said band member Sandra Sato.

“It means the county band will not be a part of county government anymore,” Kamelamela said. “This is the first day of the fight to save the band.”

“Why would you not be a part of county government of Hawaii that has a provision in the charter where music has a place?” Kim asked.

Band members were apparently still bristling about a move by Kenoi in 2009 when he tried to cut the band’s budget during the lean years and turn them into nonprofit entities. The mayor backed off after dozens of testifiers, including Kim himself, pleaded with him not to cut the bands’ funding.

“The will of the people was clear and concise they wanted to protect the fabric of this island,” said Bandmaster Paul Arceo.

But Corporation Counsel Molly Stebbins told the council that killing the measure by a resolution at this hour would set a bad precedent and could possibly allow the council to kill a future citizen ballot referendum the same way.

“This is a housekeeping measure,” Stebbins said. “It does not have the effect of eliminating the county band.”

But, for the council in an election year, perception is reality, and Stebbins’ advice was unheeded.

The 2016-17 budget that went into effect Friday allocates $242,339 for the county band, up 37 percent from $176,836 expended in the 2014-15 fiscal year, the most recent figures available. The band has 40 positions, with 16 of them unfunded for 24 total positions. All but the director are part-time positions.

The other positions are one-fifth time, requiring musicians to attend two practices each week and at least 40 performances annually.

The West Hawaii Band is allocated $40,871 in the new budget, up 42 percent from $28,783 in 2014-15. The West Hawaii band has 19 county positions, with nine unfunded.

Hilo Councilman Dennis “Fresh” Onishi who sponsored the original bill, said he introduced it simply to remove the exemption against civil service requirements, but was persuaded by fellow council members to remove the section covering the county band entirely.

“I have always supported the county band,” Onishi said.

Email Nancy Cook Lauer at ncook-lauer@westhawaiitoday.com.


Letter to the editor – changing perceptions

Updated: June 23, 2016 – 9:18am

Candidate impressed

This letter is a follow-up to one written a couple of weeks ago concerning the lack of concern for the west side by one mayoral candidate.

Since that letter was published, I have been able to have discussions with both Harry Kim and Wally Lau. Both have been very cordial, low key, and similar in the sense that both were brought up (as I was) in the shibai code in which self-advocacy and “tooting your own horn” is frowned upon, especially in Harry’s case where his stoic facade belies a sensitive and incisive intellect.

Their contention of their good deeds will stand on their own merit (“action is stronger than words”) is often overshadowed in today’s bragging-of-half-truths world of politics. Instead of taking publicized credit for certain projects, they are very comfortable with the team approach.

Based on conversations with both candidates, I would very much like to retract the statements made in my first letter as my perception of Harry Kim was completely wrong; his sincerity and passion for the future of the whole island warrants a strong consideration for anyone voting for mayor.

Bryant Ching


Harry Kim’s Second Radio Message

Aloha, this is Harry Kim with a message for Hawai‘i Island. I ask for your support in seeking the job as your mayor. It is asked that you consider the merits of work done as a teacher, a coach, in the Law Enforcement Assistance Agency, as your Civil Defense Administrator, and as your Mayor.

From the beginning the work was guided by a commitment that your government will be of fairness, of integrity, of truth, and will do what is right by law. This and a continued pledge to work everyday to gain your trust, the most precious of gifts.

I am seeking the job as your mayor, not for a job, but to do the job.  To do this, I need your help.  Thank you for listening, and have a safe day. This is paid for by Harry Kim For Mayor, P.O. Box 626, Hilo Hawai‘i 96721.