HILO — With lava flows imploding the county budget, there’s a lot to worry about back home. But that hasn’t kept six of the nine County Council members from taking a few days off for the annual Hawaii State Association of Counties conference, held Thursday through Saturday in Waikiki.
Council members Valerie Poindexter, Aaron Chung, Eileen O’Hara, Maile David, Dru Kanuha and Karen Eoff are attending the event at the Sheraton Waikiki and the Royal Hawaiian hotels.
Council members justified the cost — $400 for the conference registration, $329 a night for the hotel, plus airfare — as necessary to touch base with state and county colleagues, attend sessions on important issues and make crucial contacts to help push Hawaii County’s legislative agenda.
Poindexter, the council chairwoman, said she met with House Speaker Scott Saiki, to push for county priorities such as a greater county share of the transient accommodations tax on short-term lodging.
“It gave me an opportunity to do a lot of networking with individuals who are facing similar issues our island faces,” Poindexter said. “I also had an opportunity to meet with House Speaker Scott Saiki and Chair Ernie Martin of Honolulu City Council to discuss financial struggles of counties and how can we begin to address it with the cooperation of our state legislators.”
Council members each have a district allowance of $8,550 annually that they use for travel, office incidentals and food and lei for events.
“Sharing challenges and ideas with our counterparts from other counties and across America helps us serve our constituents better,” said Kanuha, who, as HSAC president, gets his expenses reimbursed. “Problem-solving can’t be done in a vacuum. When we learn from other counties, we come home with different perspectives, ideas and solutions.”
Chung, who said this is his first HSAC conference in his 11 years in office, said there’s more to the conference than he expected.
“I’m pleasantly surprised,” Chung said. “If there’s a direct benefit, I can’t say. There’s definitely an indirect benefit. … It’s not a party.”
David said she especially appreciated the theme of this year’s conference, “I Ho’o Kahi Ka Mana’o, I Ho’o Kahi Pu’uwai, I Ho’o Kahi Ke Aloha,” or “Be of one mind, one heart and one love.”
“The annual conference is important because unlike other conferences, panel discussions are thoughtfully prepared and focused on issues that directly relate to our respective counties,” David said. “As impacts to our counties vary based on each island’s unique specialness, it’s valuable to be able to compare how one issue affects each county either in a similar or different manner. … HSAC conferences have always been very helpful to me in doing the best job I can as a public servant.”
Eoff said she found many of the sessions helpful. Panels included Agricultural Technology in the 21st Century, Long Range Sustainability &Resilience Plans, Establishing a County Office Of Climate Change, Sustainability &Resiliency, Effects of Tourism on County Resources and Real Property Tax Data and the Impacts of Proposed Constitutional Amendment on the Counties.
“The panel regarding the effects of tourism on county resources was an especially worthwhile and interesting discussion,” Eoff said. “It provided a look into the future of our island, including insights and information relating to the impacts on our fragile natural and cultural resources.”
Tours of local farms were also on the agenda, including Monsanto Hawaii, Ko Hana Hawaii Rum Farm and Larry Jefts Farm.
But there was time for play, too. The conference kicked off Thursday with a welcome reception at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel Ocean Lawn, featuring the Royal Hawaiian Band and Glee Club. It ended Saturday with a golf tournament at the Koolau Golf Club, followed by an awards banquet.