City Council to get fresh start
By Treena Shapiro
Advertiser Staff Writer
"It's one of those things I don't think was fully contemplated," when voters decided in 1992 to impose a two-term limit beginning this year, Mayor Jeremy Harris said yesterday. "It's never happened before."
Term limits barred council members from running for reelection.
Voters opted against candidates with city experience: Pam Witty-Oakland, a budget analyst for Council Chairman John DeSoto; former state Sen. Gerry Hagino, who worked in the managing director's office; former city managing director Bob Fishman, and former police chief Michael Nakamura.
Instead, they selected candidates with state experience.
"I think the message is clear. (Voters) want independent thinkers that will try to do the right thing," said Councilman Gary Okino, elected in the Sept. 21 primary along with Romy Cachola and Ann Kobayashi.
As the three current members, they have started discussing how to organize the new leadership. Cachola said he would like to be chairman and would also head the zoning committee.
"I'm really interested in being chairman," Okino said. "I'll probably be asking the other members if they will support me as chair."
Kobayashi said she would support Okino while leading the budget committee.
Shortly after the six newly elected members start their terms Jan. 2, council members will have to deal with such pressing issues as balancing the budget, finding an alternative to the Waimanalo Gulch landfill and traffic.
Cachola said balancing the budget would be particularly challenging "when those council members elected took the position not to increase property tax," or only as a last resort.
Since the learning curve presents challenges for new council members, Harris said it was important "that we provide as much effort and as much opportunity as possible for them to learn about the city administration.
"Hopefully, when they do take their seats in January, they are up to speed and are able to make knowledgeable decisions."
A fresh council could lead to a better working relationship with the Harris administration, which has been at odds with the council since a heated budget debate earlier this year.
"I'm looking forward to the new group of freshmen coming in," Harris said yesterday.
Noting that five council members will be former state lawmakers, Harris said he is optimistic they'll be great champions for the city, lobbying the Legislature for more equity in how certain revenues are handled.
Council members yesterday seemed open to a more amicable relationship with the city administration, including budget chairwoman Kobayashi, who has been frustrated in attempts to get answers.
She said she told newly installed Budget and Fiscal Services Director Ivan Lui-Kwan, "Getting information from the administration is so difficult. Sometimes it took four months. It shouldn't be that way."
Harris said he would provide new council members with information over the next couple months to avoid what happened when the newly elected Kobayashi took on the budget earlier this year and began demanding answers to "questions the city had answered every year for years and years."
Department heads were "buried with an avalanche of requests for information that the departments felt was already known information," he said.
Harris said he was pleased that former broadcast journalist Barbara Marshall, who touts her ability to ask tough questions and demand answers, had been elected to represent Kane'ohe, Kailua and Waimanalo.
Only former state Sen. Rod Tam (Kalihi Valley, Nu'uanu, Kaka'ako) seems to have taken an adversarial stance from the outset, saying his first priority would be an external audit of the city administration.
While retaining their independence, newly elected Councilmen Nestor Garcia (Waipahu, Mililani, Makakilo), Mike Gabbard (Wai'anae, 'Ewa) and Donovan Dela Cruz (Wahiawa, North Shore, 'ahuimanu) said they would like to find a way to work with the administration.
"It's in my nature to work with people," Garcia said.
Dela Cruz said, "I think the community would be serviced better by friendly dialogue not that we're going to agree with everyone all the time."
Gabbard said he had stepped down as chairman of the Alliance for Traditional Marriage and Values.
"My main purpose will be serving the people who elected me, really putting people's interests before mine," he said, adding that he would like to "sit down together and work things out" with other council members and the administration.
Charles Djou (Waikiki, Kaimuki, Hawai'i Kai) said he was excited voters had elected an independent council, because "we need to start putting forth some questions on the priorities of the city government."
Djou looks forward to working with the mayor "as long as he keeps the best interest at hand."
"We have some very difficult budget decisions," he said. "If we can all be reasonable, it should work out okay."
Reach Treena Shapiro at 525-8070 or email@example.com.
Correction: City Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi said she will support Councilman Gary Okino for council chairman. A previous version of this story was incorrect because of an editors error.