East Hawaii News

David, Chung reflect on their time serving on Hawai‘i County Council

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The new Hawai‘i County Council will be sworn in Dec. 5, minus two familiar faces who have been fixtures at the table for the past eight years.

Maile David, who represented Council District 6, and Aaron Chung, the Council District 2 representative, were both term-limited this year and could not seek re-election. Their last regular Council meeting was Nov. 16.

Before she adjourned the meeting, Chairwoman David thanked those staff members who honored her and Chung with lei and kind thoughts. Councilman Holeka Inaba also honored the two with a song composed by Queen Liliʻuokalani in 1878, when she was still just a princess.

“Until we meet again,” Inaba sang as he played the ‘ukulele, ending “Aloha ʻOe.”

“We will see you guys later,” David reassured her Council colleagues in her closing remarks after Inaba’s tribute.

David said it was a natural transition for her to seek a seat at the Council table nearly a decade ago. She had spent many years of citizen engagement in government decision-making processes and filing legal challenges all the way up to the Hawaiʻi Supreme Court that focused on government’s duty to consider impacts proposed developments would have on constitutionally protected Native Hawaiian rights and cultural and natural resources.

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She sought to continue her service on the Council because of her commitment to do everything she could to serve her district and her generational Native Hawaiian home.

“It has given me the opportunity to continue my community advocacy into governmental decision-making processes and being of service to the people,” David said in the weeks after her final regular Council meeting.

The 70-year-old said her district is very special to her, as generations of her family are rooted in South Kona and Kaʻū. It has been her privilege to doing whatever she could to help improve the quality of life for those she served.

David has no plans to continue public service and will be spending more time with her family, especially taking care of her 91-year-old father. She will concentrate on her home life, shoreline fishing, lauhala weaving and playing the ‘ukulele.

Chung actually served on the Council previously from 1996 to 2004. Prior to that, he served eight years as a county attorney. The Council’s current vice chairman and a former chairman of the body, he said he had the experience and a pretty good understanding of how county government operates when he sought his seat eight years ago.

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“But more importantly, Hilo might be one of the few places in Hawai‘i where strong values still play a part in dictating the sensibilities of the community,” Chung said in the week’s after his final regular Council meeting. “I was born and raised here. It’s my home and I just wanted to have a hand in making sure that it continued to be a good place to live.”

He’s had a positive experience the second time around.

“Aside from being a parent, I’d say that serving as a Council member was the most rewarding experience of my life,” the 64-year-old said.

He said there is a great deal of responsibility placed on any officeholder and he tried his best to live up to the trust placed in him by the voters and can leave the Council knowing he always conducted himself in a fair, honest and ethical manner.

Chung can’t really say what the future has in store for him as far as seeking elected office again. He said he’s pretty worn down right now and will need time to re-energize, if that’s possible at his age. It might sound corny, especially to his wife, but he would like to spend more time with her, maybe even doing more traveling, something both of them enjoy.

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He said the Council has had a lot to contend with in recent history.

“During the past five years, we had to deal with a devastating lava flow in Puna and a global pandemic,” Chung said. “There were no instruction manuals on how to handle those types of situations and the County was placed in a no-win situation. Still, I am very proud of the efforts put forth by the Council in getting information out to the public, providing checks and balances to what was being done at the administration level and taking an overall tempered approach to the situation.”

Hawai‘i County Council Chairwoman Maile David speaks during an April meeting of the Council’s Committee on Climate Resilience and Natural Resource Management. (Screenshot from video)

Big Island Now asked David and Chung several questions about their time on the Council. Here are their answers.

Q: What do you think is your biggest accomplishment while serving on the Council?

David: Completing my entire eight-year term, helping constituents resolve issues, working with the administrative departments in bringing services to my district, working with the late Mayor Billy Kenoi in constructing the new Hōnaunau Rodeo Arena and serving as chair of the County Nonprofit Grant Committee, chair of the Finance Committee and, in my final term, the privilege and honor of serving as chair of the Council.

Chung: Without question, it was working collaboratively with fellow Council members and the administration in creating sustainable funding sources to fix roads, improve our mass transit system and address our housing/homelessness situation. The results may not be noticeable right now, but if those monies are used correctly the public should be seeing positive outcomes in the near future.

Q: Did you accomplish all of your goals?

David: Yes. I believe I accomplished my goals.

Hawai‘i County Council Vice Chairman Aaron Chung speaks during a September meeting of the Council’s Governmental Operations, Relations and Economic Development Committee. (Screenshot from video)

Chung: No. An unfortunate reality of serving as an elected official is that most of the goals that you set are not achieved. It doesn’t mean that you’ve failed. It’s just the nature of the beast. There are a lot of variables, many of which relate to the state and federal government.

Q: What has been the most rewarding part about your eight years on the Council?

David: Working with and getting to know various Council members throughout my term; meeting and establishing lasting friendships with people from my district; and being the first Native Hawaiian woman ever to serve as chair of the Hawai‘i County Council.

Chung: It’s impossible to point to any one specific thing, but whenever you’re able to help improve the quality of people’s lives — whether it’s something as small as arranging for a pothole to be filled to having a hand in the construction of new roads, buildings or parks — it’s difficult not to come away with a nice feeling.

Q: Do you have any regrets?

David: I have absolutely no regrets except this: I will miss the outstanding staff of the county clerk’s office, my personal staff, Council members and their staff, the people of the administrative departments who I have worked very closely with during my term and the engaging with constituents.

Chung: Yes. I wish that it hadn’t taken so long to get Waiānuenue Avenue repaired. I accept responsibility for that. Roads in the downtown area, particularly Keawe Street, are in bad shape. They are going to improve soon, but I could have done a better job on that matter, too. And finally, the homeless situation in downtown has not improved since I took office, but it should start getting better because of the funding that we created.

Q: Was there anything you wish you could have gotten passed that you didn’t?

David: No.

Chung: I really wanted the Council to pass some sort of legislation designed at assisting the administration in speeding up the building permit process. Over the years, we had relied too heavily on the expectation that improvements to the system would be done internally at the departmental level. That expectation never materialized and problems still exist. I realize now that the blame should not be placed on the administration, it should be placed on the Council. After all, we are the lawmakers. What we should have been doing was working in tandem with the administration to identify the problem areas and to come up with legislation to correct them. I introduced a bill at the tail end of my term to address this situation. It got deferred, but I think I got my point across, which was that the Council needs to take a more active role in trying to fix the building permit process.

Q: What was the most interesting part of your time on the Council?

David: Interesting was learning the multiple layers of procedural checks and balances government implements to assure accountability and transparency.

Chung: Whenever you deal with people it creates the potential for an interesting situation. On the Council, we deal with a lot of people. That’s all I need to say about that.

Q: What advice would you give the person taking over your seat on the Council?

David: Be true to yourself and what you believe in; do what’s best for the people.

Chung: I have never given solicited or unsolicited advice to any incoming Council member. It’s not my place. Each Council member has their own unique outlook on life, value set and support base. They will find their way and create their own special mark. Some might take a little longer than others, but they will eventually get there. It’s part of the learning process.

Nathan Christophel
Nathan Christophel is a full-time reporter with Pacific Media Group. He has more than 25 years of experience in journalism as a reporter, copy editor and page designer. His previous employment was at the Hawaii Tribune-Herald in Hilo.
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