Editor’s note: West Hawaii Today asked the three major mayoral candidates to comment on what they wished they’d accomplished while in public office and what they have recently learned from the campaign trail. Here is County Council Chairman Dominic Yagong’s answer. Tomorrow: Former Mayor Harry Kim.
HILO — Dominic Yagong lists opening up the public’s access to government among his accomplishments during his 12 years as a County Council member, but it’s also an area where he wishes he’d done more.
“When I first started, if you did not come to Hilo to testify, forget about it,” Yagong said.
He notes the County Council has since opened up remote sites where the public can attend and testify via videoconference, as well as added monthly County Council meetings in Kona. But while Kona and Waimea, and more recently, Pahoa, have videoconference hookups for the public, they have yet to be installed in Ka‘u, South Kona, Hamakua or Kohala, he said.
“We’ve really made a lot of strides on the County Council in terms of making the governmental process open and transparent throughout the entire island,” Yagong said. “We’ve been able to open up four satellite sites and the fifth one in Ka‘u we hope to see completed this year. But I think there’s more that can be done to allow for even greater participation by the general public.”
Yagong said he hasn’t learned much new on the campaign trail over the past few months from either the public or his opponents, but he thinks his earlier perceptions have been solidified. He said he’s been in touch with the public in his role as chairman of the County Council, so he’s been listening to their concerns all along.
“When I began the campaign, the strongest feedback I received from the general public was an underlying mistrust of the administration and in Mayor (Billy) Kenoi’s policy and statements,” he said. “That perception didn’t change and actually became stronger as the campaign went on.”
Yagong characterized some of Kenoi’s statements as “misleading and even outright lies.” When asked for particulars, Yagong mentioned the “secret plan” in trucking trash from Hilo to Kona while telling constituents there was no such plan, and Kenoi’s statements that the administration did not defer GASB 45 advance benefits for retirees, when in fact the mayor’s budget message says it did defer $21 million.
“He’ll say one thing when he’s talking to the chamber of commerce, and another thing when he’s in Puna talking to people there,” Yagong said. “It’s an entirely different story.”
His perceptions about former Mayor Harry Kim, his other major opponent in Saturday’s primary, haven’t changed much either, he said. During Kim’s eight years as mayor, county government grew significantly, and now the county has a government it can’t afford, Yagong said.
“Now it’s come back to bite us,” he said.
Kim’s negotiations with Wheelabrator for a waste-to-energy incinerator also fell short, Yagong said, adding that he himself was able to get Wheelabrator to cut $10 million off the $125 million price tag in a single conversation.
“We all like Mayor Kim. Everyone agrees he’s a nice guy,” Yagong said. “But there’s times to be nice and times to be firm.”