Saturday, March 02, 2024 |
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Hawaii County Mayor Mitch Roth.
With the legislative session kicking off Wednesday, the County Council has been eager to hear about Mayor Mitch Roth’s priorities for Hawaii Island.
That opportunity should finally come today, after scheduled updates by the administration to the council were postponed twice. The council’s Governmental Operations, Relations, and Economic Development Committee has scheduled a 9:30 a.m. meeting to hear from Executive Assistant Steve Bader, who’s been designated as Roth’s liaison on legislative matters.
The state’s four county councils, as the Hawaii State Association of Counties, submitted a joint package to the Legislature earlier, with eight priorities including increasing several fees and fines, limiting lifeguard liability and adding Juneteenth to the list of 13 state holidays.
“The challenges we face each year are no different — infrastructure, waste, housing, economic development, health care, child and kupuna care — are all top of mind and get more complex to solve,” Puna Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz said Monday. “I’ve asked the administration for a strategic plan on how we will tackle these issues so that we are ready to go after funds when they are available. Hopefully, tomorrow’s update sheds some light.”
Roth’s priorities are coming in later than usual, a matter of timing that caused several council members consternation when a planned Jan. 4 briefing was postponed.
“We can provide a valuable service as a united front, as the county, to help support and advocate for state legislation that benefits us all and without adequate communication from the administration about what priorities they have, it really puts us behind,” committee Chairwoman Heather Kimball, resenting Hamakua, said at the meeting. “It always helps to lay some groundwork, as you all know, and that’s what we could be doing now. Unfortunately, because of this current situation, we are unable to do so.”
“The level of communication is really needed. This council, we all have our contacts to advocate for legislation coming forth and we can be a huge benefit if we know what we’re trying to advocate for, so that comes down to a level of communication,” said Kohala Councilman Tim Richards.
The coronavirus pandemic, especially the recent infection spikes attributed to the omicron variant, has thrown a wrench in local government’s efforts to keep the ship of state sailing smoothly.
Still, several council members said, there should be backup plans ready and deputies assigned in case one person can’t do the update.
“Is the mayor not able to come, being that it’s his administration?” asked North Kona Councilman Holeka Inaba.
The public has also been kept in the dark because the mayor’s correspondence files, including testimony submitted to legislative committees, hasn’t been posted on the mayor’s website, as was the practice of former mayors Harry Kim and Billy Kenoi.
“I’m actually rather disappointed because the clock is ticking … We’re really not on track with the mayor’s direction,” said Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy. “It just really puts us up against the wall as we galvanize some of the support needed.”
Attempts to reach Roth and Bader were unsuccessful Monday, a holiday for government employees. A spokesman for the mayor said he was unable to provide the priority list by press-time Monday.
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