East Hawaii News

Kenoi and Kim Debate as General Election Draws Nearer

September 21, 2012, 7:45 PM HST
* Updated September 24, 10:25 AM
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The velvet gloves came off a few times today as the two remaining candidates for Big Island mayor met for the first time in the general election season.

Mayor Billy Kenoi and former mayor Harry Kim presented their views as part of a media symposium sponsored by Ke Kalahea, the University of Hawaii at Hilo student newspaper.

Kenoi, who served for six years as an executive assistant under the Kim administration, has repeatedly stated how he admires and respects his former boss who he has known since he was 8-years-old when Kim was his football coach.

For his part, Kim has also gone to great lengths to avoid criticizing the current administration, saying that he was running only to give voters another option.

Kenoi and Kim will face off in the Nov. 6 general election because neither was able to tally the 50% plus one vote necessary to win the nonpartisan race outright.

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Kim has said since that he would be looking for a different campaign tack to differentiate himself from the charismatic Kenoi, and observers at the event today at the university’s campus plaza saw hints of that.

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Regarding the ongoing community development plan process ongoing around the island initiated under Kim’s administration, the former mayor said Kenoi has not been as supportive as he could be.

Kenoi responded that his administration not only funded additional CDPs while struggling with budget reductions, but has also been working to implement recommendations from previous CPDs. He also noted that he has taken his cabinet out to 50 meetings around the island to get in better touch with communities.

When it comes to the island’s burgeoning trash problem, both were roughly on the same page.

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Kim said he is firmly opposed to new landfills, which he called “a waste of resources and detrimental to the environment.”

“But whether waste-to-energy is the solution here, I don’t know,” he said. When he was in office Kim pushed for a trash incinerator but the County Council balked at the $125 million price tag for that proposal.

Kenoi was unequivocal on the matter. He said Oahu’s H-Power plant shows that incinerating trash while also generating electricity can work.

“Yes, it’s going to take a lot of money but we have to step forward and make that decision,” he said, adding that with prompt planning, such a plant could be in place within four years before the current Hilo landfill must close.

Kenoi began his remarks by noting that he has reduced the size of the county’s budget to $365 million from the $405 million budget he inherited when he took office in 2008, all the while creating 90 bus shelters, three new housing projects and maintaining public services.

He did not mention the striking growth of government in the previous eight years when the budget grew several fold as county coffers expanded as a result of rapidly increasing property values.

Kim responded that during his eight years in office he was “proud of catching up” on staffing for the police and fire departments and initiating 40 public works projects, although he prefaced that by noting that Kenoi has had to freeze positions despite “tremendous growth” on the island because of budget constraints.

Kim was critical of Kenoi’s decision to forgo $34 million in GASB 45 payments to balance the budget over the past two years, saying he thought that should be a higher priority. Kim, however, did not say say where he would make corresponding budget cuts.

GASB, short for a form from the Governmental Accounting Standards Board, represents estimated liabilities for health-care payments for future retirees for accounting purposes.

“There is a misperception that health and retirement are not being addressed,” he said, noting that Hawaii County has made all of the payments necessary for current and past employee while also putting $61 million into the Big Island’s GASB account, the most of any county in the state.

In their closing statements, Kim said he opted to run for mayor again because he didn’t like the state of current government, such as the way the administration of Gov. Neil Abercrombie has handled geothermal development. He also mentioned several new laws he disagrees with, including Act 55 which created the Public Lands Development Corp.

Kenoi pointed out that all of those were state initiatives, and said he has been able to protect the island’s residents while working through four tough economic years. He said he has done so by focusing on collaboration and teamwork.

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