Call for 2 Big Island counties gains force
A grass-roots meeting draws 150 residents of West Hawaii
KAILUA-KONA » Fed up with what they call a nonfunctional government, some West Hawaii residents are starting to call for control over their own side of the Big Island.
At a recent grass-roots meeting designed to gauge interest in a move to split the Big Island into two counties, a surprising 150 people showed up to voice their growing frustration with Mayor Harry Kim's administration and a Hilo-based County Council many believe are unresponsive.
The meeting of the fledgling Citizens for a Better Government group came less than a week after Kim, who has been mentioned as a possible gubernatorial candidate, told a West Hawaii audience he was happy with the way his administration is addressing issues in the county.
Initiated by Susan McGeachy, a West Hawaii resident for 18 years and a former bank executive, the three-hour meeting was orderly and well-mannered but pointed in its criticism of county government.
McGeachy said she was surprised by the high attendance and the level of frustration.
While some had specific complaints -- lost building permits or lack of police response -- others wanted immediate recall of the 11 elected county officials, including the nine councilors, mayor and county prosecutor.
McGeachy, a longtime civic activist, said it appears the community may be ready to support radical options to get what it believes it deserves from local government.
"We're the little tumbleweed that's going to grow. This is the very beginning step of a very, very long ladder process," she said. "We are only looking for the ability to control what's happening in our own environment without driving two hours."
Splitting the county is an issue that arises from time to time in various forums.
McGeachy insists it would not require a doubling of services and government expenses as some suggest.
"The only thing we would be doubling would be the mayor. Everything else would be split," she said.
McGeachy said she would not run for office herself because she cannot drive at night and could not attend regular meetings in Hilo, 100 miles from Kona.
In an effort to install a better government, those in attendance threw out ideas that ranged from elementary to radical.
Attorney Frank Jung spoke of a united, collective voice that forces the issue before lawmakers or a push to make the issue a ballot item before voters.
Tim Terzi, a New York native who runs a limousine service in West Hawaii, said he would be willing to park his vehicle on a public road and cause gridlock to illustrate traffic problems.
Others proposed a tax-in, with property owners directing payments to an escrow account until such time as they were comfortable turning over their taxes to an accountable leadership.
Other ideas included a sit-in at Kim's Hilo office, an audit and performance review of county employees, and bankrolling favored East Hawaii council candidates.
Vern Ungerecht, a former mayor and council member in a rural Alaskan county, drew ire from the crowd when he said the process would be difficult and perhaps not productive or beneficial to West Hawaii.
He said he understands the frustration, but pointed to less-dramatic methods to draw the attention of county officials.
"Let them know we're watching and they have to know we're not a silent majority or even a silent minority anymore," Ungerecht said.