HILO — It’s a classic case of “use it or lose it.”
A site set up in Ocean View for Ka‘u residents to come and testify before the County Council is likely to be struck from the new fiscal year budget, after very few people used it for testimony. The room, at the Ocean View Community Association building, was opened in December to testimony by videoconference, fulfilling a campaign pledge by one-term Councilwoman Brittany Smart.
Councilwoman Brenda Ford, who represents the newly redrawn South Kona/Ka‘u District, is lobbying to put $19,400 in the budget so the site can remain open four days a month for public participation. She points to budget overruns of more than $20,000 to send additional council members to national conferences on the mainland, money she said could be spent on keeping public access open to Ka‘u instead.
Ford said the county could possibly get by spending just $7,200 to rent the room and provide the teleconferencing equipment; the extra money she’s seeking would go for staffing at the site.
“I believe we should be extending our outreach to Ka‘u, which has nothing, other than this one thing now,” Ford said.
But Puna Councilmen Greggor Ilagan and Zendo Kern, in a budget briefing earlier this month, said the site has been open for almost six months with very little use. The Pahoa videoconferencing site, on the other hand, often has testifiers.
“I’m all about access for the public, transparency,” Kern said. “Since the beginning of this, there hasn’t been one person who has testified. … It isn’t really fiscally responsible to provide the videoconferencing when nobody’s using it.”
Kern asked Ford for a list of people who’ve been at the site during meetings.
Council Chairman J Yoshimoto, of Hilo, suggested the county would be better off setting up a system of live webstreaming of council and committee meetings, which would allow people to view the meetings from any computer with Internet access, rather than setting up individual sites for viewing and testimony.
“If there’s a need for the site to have testifiers testify, then that’s something we can look at and consider,” Yoshimoto said. “But at this point in time, after four or five months, it doesn’t seem like it’s been that heavily (used).”
Ford and Kohala Councilwoman Margaret Wille said the project simply hasn’t been in place long enough for the public to become aware of and take advantage of it. Wille said she thinks a 12-month trial period would be required if she were to start a similar site in Kohala.
Ford sent out an email Thursday afternoon to constituents, warning them the site is slated for the chopping block if it’s not being used.
She said the best way to ensure the site will remain open in the fiscal year that starts July 1 is to attend meetings at the event and provide testimony.