Puna Councilman Greggor Ilagan is relocating his district office to the old Pahoa Police Station, a move that will save the county $22,000 annually but displaces community groups and eliminates for several months a satellite site for public council meeting participation.
Ilagan told fellow council members Wednesday that it may be November before the new office is complete. That displeased several members of the public, who questioned the timing of the move to coincide with testimony and deliberations on controversial genetically modified organisms, or GMO, bills. Puna residents now must travel to Hilo or Ocean View to testify on bills and watch the meetings.
“We’re working diligently in making sure the renovations are accomplished (quickly),” Ilagan said.
The move also displaced three neighborhood groups. The chairwoman of one of the groups, Madie Greene, 75, has already printed bumper stickers and plans to run against Ilagan, 27, a first-term councilor, next year. Candidates can’t pick up nomination papers for office until Feb. 3.
“I just don’t see that things are getting done,” Greene said. “I realize that things take time. I understand that. But I have so many people asking me to run.”
Puna voters tend to be tough sells. Ilagan’s predecessor, Fred Blas, served just one term before being ousted. Blas’ predecessor, Emily Naeole, served two terms. Her predecessor, Gary Safaric, managed three terms before being ousted by Naeole. Council members can serve four terms before becoming term-limited.
Ilagan is moving from the Pahoa Shopping Center, which because of redistricting is now in Councilman Zendo Kern’s District 5, to the police station, which is in his own District 4. In the meantime, Ilagan is using his office in the county building in Hilo.
The county has been renting the office at the shopping center on a month-to-month basis since the lease ended Dec. 31.
Ilagan deferred additional comments to Chairman J Yoshimoto, who said the Department of Public Works is replacing flooring and making other “simple modifications.” He didn’t know how much the project would cost.
“We ask for the public’s patience and understanding,” Yoshimoto said, adding that in the long run, the new facility will better serve the public.
Community groups who had used the old police station for a $1 annual rent moved out in March after being notified the building was going to be used as a council district office. Ilagan had said at the time that several of the community groups told him they didn’t want to move, nor did they want to share the space with his office.
A Stephens Media Hawaii report in January noted that the county did not solicit bids for use of the facility.
County Property Manager Ken Van Bergen said the county did not need to seek competitive bids on the approximately 1,200-square-foot building because it was renting it to nonprofit organizations. At the time, however, none of the three groups — Kokua Pahoa Weed and Seed, Men of Paa and Kanaka O Puna — were listed with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service as bona fide nonprofit organizations.
Kokua Pahoa Chairwoman Greene attributed the lack of IRS filing to a backlog at the federal agency.