HILO — A new County Council was seated Monday, with its chairman pledging renewed cooperation between county and state governments and a session without distractions from the serious issues of the day.
During a lei-draped day of ceremony at the Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium and in council chambers, Chairman Aaron Chung of Hilo recognized that three members of the island’s state legislative delegation — Democratic Sen. Kai Kahele and Reps. Chris Todd and David Tarnas — attended the county event on their home island rather than flying to Honolulu to attend Gov. David Ige’s inauguration to his second term.
“I really believe that our Big Island delegation will be the strongest it has been in well over 20 years,” Chung said. “We need to take full advantage of that. Today marks the beginning of a new era in communication, dialogue and cooperation between the county and the Legislature.”
“I don’t have to tell you that our county has gone through a really, really tough time,” Chung added.
Chung named recovery from Puna lava flows as the top priority for the new two-year session. The volcanic eruption, coupled with Hurricane Lane, caused yet unknown financial damage, he said.
“We have yet to fully assess the impacts these disasters on our own county budget,” he said.
He urged council members to stay focused on the important work ahead and not get distracted, quoting one of his mentors, former Mayor and Councilman Stephen Yamashiro, that “government cannot be all things to all people.”
Chung praised the mix of freshman and seasoned council members, saying the members bring a good balance of government, business and agricultural background to the body.
Former Council chairman Valerie Poindexter, of Hamakua, agreed.
“All the things we bring to the table as one body is just so exciting for the county of Hawaii,” Poindexter said.
Mayor Harry Kim, after the meeting, said he’s ready to work with the new council.
“I will work hard for the county and I think they will too,” Kim said.
Returning North Kona Councilwoman Karen Eoff was retained as vice chairwoman of the council and returning South Kona/Ka‘u Councilwoman Maile David retained her position as chairwoman of the Finance Committee. Eoff and Poindexter are completing their final council terms before being term-limited.
Other returning council members are Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy and Kohala Councilman Tom Richards. New council members are Kona Councilwoman Rebecca Villegas, Puna Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz and Puna Councilman Matt Kanealii-Kleinfelder.