Friday, July 15, 2005

Counties’ officials
feel the heat of isle
conference site

For some mainland officials attending the National Association of Counties conference in Honolulu, the grief from voters probably won't end.

At a glance

Who: National Association of Counties
What: 2005 Annual Conference and Exposition
When: Today through Tuesday
Where: Hawai'i Convention Center
Attendees: 3,000 county officials, guests and sponsors
Web site: www.naco.org

Representatives with the National Association of Counties, which begins its annual conference today through Tuesday at the Hawai'i Convention Center, said that these public officials can expect more repercussions as a result of their decision to attend a meeting in "paradise."

"It probably isn't over, to be quite frank," said Larry Naake, NACo executive director. "When they go back, they're probably going to get some more heat."

Jeremy Ratner, NACo media relations manager, said a news camera crew and about three to four newspaper reporters have followed their respective county officials here to Honolulu.

Ratner said the perception of Hawaii as a tourist destination is at the core of the criticism.

"I think the weathering is really on the local level, not the national association. The heat is going to be placed on the individuals," said Bill Hansell, NACo's incoming president and an Umatilla County, Ore., commissioner, who added that he has not been criticized for coming.

The Washington D.C.-based NACo boasts a membership of more than 2,000 counties.

Hansell, Naake, Ratner and Eric Coleman, NACo second vice president, said the meeting is a working conference and that Honolulu won the right to host the conference, as have other locations.

"Our conventions are booked five years in advance. Not every community can handle the size that we have," Hansell said. "So the Hawaii folks went head to head with a whole host of people five years ago. ... They were very competitive and they won the bid. It wasn't something we woke up three weeks ago and said, 'OK, let's go to Hawaii.'"

Naake said about 3,000 county officials are attending the conference -- which is about the same number as in the past two annual conferences, in Phoenix in 2004 and Milwaukee in 2003. The number of elected officials attending, however, is down by about 165.

Naake said one of the factors that went into Honolulu becoming the host city was the newly built Hawai'i Convention Center.

"The fact that it's state of the art. It's one of the most beautiful in the country. It's not necessarily the largest, but it's certainly more than large enough for us," Naake said.

"If you don't have the facilities, you can't do this," Hansell said.

Naake said that the conference will pump an additional $5 million to $6 million into Hawaii's economy, with attendees and their families staying on past the convention.

Coleman said yesterday that his county is paying for the hotel accommodations, and the commissioners are paying for the air fare.

He said the only difference in costs between traveling to Hawaii and Washington, D.C., for example, is the air fare. Hotel accommodations are about the same.

Hansell said another reason why Hawaii is an appropriate site this year is because one of his initiatives during his term is the methamphetamine epidemic, and Hawaii has a lot of experience in fighting its "ice" problem.

"We're interested in how Hawaii is approaching this, and we want to get the information from that. That's one of the advantages of having a national organization like this, because we can share what we can do and look for the different solutions," Hansell said.

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