It’s with a heavy heart that we report that on June 29, the Maui County Council voted 5-4 to shelve the proposal to change to a county manager form of government. That proposal will not appear on the November ballot.
“[County Councilmember Mike] Victorino said members of the Policy and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee expressed discomfort in rushing out a proposal that has not been fully vetted that could expose the county to potential operational conflicts and legal issues,” stated a June 29 county news release. “Victorino said the proposal is not ‘dead,’ but instead was deferred, which means the council may consider the item further if it gets referred to the next term.”
This is bad because this year we asked every candidate running in a county race whether they supported the county manager proposal. Oh well–even though the plan is shelved for the time being, you’ll still be able to see what current Maui County candidates think of the idea because this will be an issue the next County Council will have to deal with.
Which brings us to Joseph Blackburn, who’s one of the five individuals running to replace Victorino in the seat that represents Wailuku, Waihee and Waiehu. He’s already run twice before for the same spot, but lost both times to Victorino. Will he do better in an open seat? Who can say, but Blackburn was a real sport filling out our candidate questionnaire–even said that he had to do some research to answer a few of our questions!
MAUITIME: What is your top priority if elected?
JOSEPH BLACKBURN: The most pressing issue facing Maui County is the cost of living for our working class. An example is the high cost of housing which includes rentals and homeless. We need to stop making laws and regulations which make it harder for us to increase our housing inventory. Maui County needs at least 1,400 housing units a year and we are only building a little over 300 and over half the buyers are from off island. Solutions includes helping families with down payments, with payback to the County of Maui when the property is sold. Provide a subdivision review process that has time frames and limits the amount of reviewing agencies. Allow incremental housing (Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena). Make a separate housing department within the County of Maui. Give builders incentives to build, with a process like the State 201H program which speeds approval process. Permit self contained residential fire sprinklers (NFPA 13) instead of costly water line improvements. Have hard time limits for review of community plans. Increase spending on infrastructure. Our working families are living paycheck to paycheck, or on credit and our children leaving because of the high cost of living. Let me help.
MT: What event in your life best prepared you for public office?
JB: Responding as a Fire Rescue Captain to my own father-in-law (Kalua Kaiahua) having trouble breathing and passing away at our home. It taught me everyone you deal with is someone’s family, and the impact you have as paid public responder on the family. Seeing the relief in my brother-in-law’s eyes and my wife’s face as the engine company and then our rescue unit worked on dad, bought me to the realization of the impact of public services on the community. From that day on, I have tried to understand the impact government has on people. When we say you cannot build your house because we cannot give you a water meter, the impact is tremendous. We are supposed to provides basic services. We are supposed to support our families, not stand in their way.
MT: Who should be the next President of the United States?
JB: Waiting for the conventions to make a determination.
MT: Which person who previously held the office you’re seeking do you hold up as a model? Why?
JB: Maui County Councilperson Velma McWayne Santos. She was a volunteer and a teacher. She was a woman who was ahead of her time. She worked hard for the community and was an example for women. Politics came after life experiences including working and raising a family.
She was honest and straightforward. Loved her Wailuku, Waihe’e and Waikapu District served as chairperson of the Wailuku Association trying to preserve small town character.
The building where our business is now located was Gilbert’s Formal and the owner was Susan Hotta, who had great respect and admiration for Velma as a leader and woman. I loved Mrs. Hotta, and spoke to her before she passed about being woman in the men’s clothes business. Both these women serve as a template of what type of councilperson I would like to be. Hardworking, efficient, honest and straightforward, using life experiences to serve our community.
MT: What’s your opinion on changing the County Charter to a county manager form of government? Why?
JB: I would like to see qualifications for all department heads including at least a bachelor’s degree with related work experience, including the manager position. Recruitment by a professional, independent recruiting firm including the Managing Director. Institute a selection process for the Managing Director and Department Heads that would minimize political influence. Have a ten year term for directors to allow them to vest in the County. Let the Mayor and Council select five names from a list of qualified names like we do for civil service positions, and they must agree on one. If we set higher standards I have confidence our county employees will attempt to attain the qualifications for the top positions. Provide education incentives for County employee’s. Right now our current management system is expensive. Current Mayor’s staff is 19 and Office of Management employees number 11 a total of 30. Price tag for wages is $2,289,111, not including benefit costs which are about 73% more. This number does not include Budget , CDBG or other miscellaneous staff that are in the Mayor’s office. In comparison, the Mayor/Manager staff on Kauai is 9, on Hawaii 17, and on Oahu, the Office of Mayor staff is 6, and the Managing Directors office is 22.5 FTE for a total of 28.5. Let reduce costs.
MT: Do you support changing the County Charter to allow the mayor, as opposed to the Liquor Commission, to appoint the Liquor Control Director?
JB: I would like to see the liquor commission put under the police department. This would mean the liquor a separate section under the police. What happens in bars affects our community, including accidents, fights, and spouse abuse to name a few. Why have two commission and departments, when we could have one.
MT: What should the county do that it isn’t already doing to alleviate homelessness? The following are suggestions to help our community and the County of Maui alleviate homelessness.
JB: Evaluate resources by using the up to date point in time count done every year in January. This count is sent to Maude Cumming who is co-chair of the Maui Homeless alliance.
Our homeless shelters are maxed out: There is a wait list for shelters and transitional housing. One of the problems is at Hale Makana O Waiale many of the affordable rentals have families staying for a very long time. It is difficult to transition them out to regular housing, as we are in a rental housing crisis. A four-bedroom house rents for about $1,000.00 a month and some families have been there for over 15 years. Thus at Ka Hale A Ke Ola, the emergency shelter should be for six weeks with free room and board, and then hopefully clients would get transitional housing for up to two years while they try and find an affordable rental. Since Hale Makana O Waiale has very little openings the whole system backs up.
The transitional housing programs should be two years. Clients are staying longer than necessary, as they cannot find a place to rent. Many clients have Housing and Urban Development Rental Vouchers, but so few HUD rentals are available. Get more landlords (housing providers) to rent to HUD. Case managers can go out into the community and touch bases with housing providers. Once families are placed, follow up and track clients for up to two years. Many clients fall back into homelessness if they are not followed up with. Get housing providers to trust that the agencies will be there to help.
Social service provider and agencies need help getting out of their comfort zone and into the community.
Hardcore Homeless: Agencies should get to know the hardcore homeless by name and location. When clients are sent out of the shelters where are they going? Follow up and track their progress. Many have self esteem issues. Cannot judge agencies by how many homeless they serve, these are just numbers. Judge agency homeless efforts by those that are truly taken off the streets not just passed on. Grants are many times based on numbers served, but are we solving the problems. Case managers must work together. Must not duplicate efforts, agencies must share what works and their programs. Very complex issues.
As far as hardcore homeless, four out of seven are veterans. Failure by the veterans administration to service their clients. Many excuses are made, but the bottom line is they are not getting what they need from the VA. The State Department of Health is also part of the problem, not providing enough resources for those with mental health issues. Many stories of lost paperwork, and these agencies being short staffed. They need to be in the streets helping the hardcore homeless.
HMIS is a database in Hawaii which all homeless go into, but they can opt out. May also have input of names with duplicate information on the same individual. If the clients do not want to share, then the services will not be able to share information.
Short Term Solution: Some type of smaller tent parks for the homeless. Must be near services as many cannot drive or have no means of transportation. This way we can open up our recreational parks again for families, Even the hardcore homeless have a leader. We must work with the leaders to establish locations for these clients. Try and keep the tent locations out of the public eye. Each location has leaders of their group of hardcore homeless. The tents do not have to be fancy, but a place to sleep, store their belonging safely and they work to keep the area maintained with the group leaders.
Lately grants have been opened up to multiple agencies, so funds that used to go to one or two agencies, are now being split up, this impacts ability to provides services.
We must coordinate all services and not duplicate services, and provide case managers with information so more than one agency can provide help using different services provided by each agency. Agencies must work as a team.
MT: HC&S is closing at the end of this year–what do you think A&B should do with the 37,000 acres that were used for growing sugar?
JB: Here is breakdown of their acreage. 27,122 acres dedicated to agriculture. Total Plantation 43,000 acres included Roadways and Reservoirs: 36,000 Farmed. 7,000 Roadways and reservoirs.
There needs to be a combination of uses. Diversity lands. Could have some solar and wind farms. There are so many micro climates on Maui, we would look for area’s that would provide the best use of the land. Look at grains and seeds for crops or bio fuels. Sorghum for energy production. Oil seeds such as sunflowers and Canola. Livestock is already being implemented. Hemp would be very interesting, but is a major pollen producer. Try to interface passive uses (do not really impact nearby populated areas) with non passive uses. An example of non passive uses would be Hemp, due to it pollen impact on populated areas.
Would have passive in-between active agriculture. Bio fuels could be one part of the use of farmland. Would need an agreement with Maui Electric to make this viable. Eleven cents a kilowatt for wind, for bio fuel their costs to produce power are higher, thus would need a higher kilowatt hour purchase agreement. For farmers electricity a big cost. Would be great to have agricultural. rates for power. Would like to keep the three hydro electric units that is located on these lands in operation to help support the electric needed for agriculture activities and provide backup to Maui Electric for the grid. These unit create six MW of power.
I would like to see an organic agricultural park and markets on some portion of the land, best suited to this type of farming. Land could be leased or purchased sometime in the future by the farmers leasing the land.
I would try to get every easement for utilities, roadways, etc. that I could get for Maui County and the future from A&B properties.
Photo courtesy Joseph Blackburn