Capitol View

By Richard Borreca

Wednesday, March 24, 1999

City should put
services on Internet

STANDING in line at the city's Ala Moana satellite city hall to license up faithful canines Lacy and Kuma made me realize I had it all wrong.

For years I've bragged about the successes of Honolulu's satellite city halls. They just seemed to be cutting-edge public policy -- where bureaucracy actually meets the people.

The city wisely put the storefront service centers at Pearlridge, Fort Street Mall, Kailua, Kalihi-Kapalama, Kaneohe, Wahiawa, Waianae and Waipahu plus rotating mobile centers at Ewa Beach, Haleiwa, Hawaii Kai, Kaimuki, Kapolei, Laie, Mililani, Nanakuli, Salt Lake and Waimanalo.

How many cities are willing to extend their services to the front door of its citizens?

Here Honolulu's dutiful residents could license their dogs, bikes and cars, register to vote, pay water bills, obtain picnic and camping permits, renew drivers' licenses, buy a bus pass and peruse city and state job information.

For a while the state also had a few satellite centers, but waning budgets caused them to be dropped. Of course, with a little creativity, they could have been opened in state libraries or other state facilities, but that is another column.

Back to the Ala Moana satellite city hall. To get to the bureaucrats you have to walk through the city's boutique, where if you are struck with the desire to dress like a city life guard, off-duty police officer or other municipal employee, you can.

The city store is staffed by a nonprofit group. There are two attendants, who act like shopkeepers in private business: That is, they are solicitous and ask you what you want. They do a variety of tasks. They don't appear to be sitting around figuring out what is not included in their job description.

But then you cross the bar into city bureaucrat land. Here the clerks are all behind the counter. There's a great deal of talking about who is supposed to be doing what job. And the cashier stands supreme and alone, waiting for customers. Perhaps only the French with their remorseless logic could appreciate such a system.

But worrying about how the city arranges its service counters is nothing compared to the real problem that city government does not even see on the radar screen: electronic commerce on the Internet.

Every day Dell sells $14 million in new computers, mostly across the Internet.

Those who stay in business because they have special or privileged pricing or information, such as stock brokers and travel agents, already hear the footsteps behind them.

Buyers realize that the old ways of distributing goods are just inefficient and wasteful.

All that can be transferred immediately to an Internet-savvy city.

If local government leaders want to encourage high-tech development, one of the best ways to start would be to put government on the Internet.

The only reason the city doesn't allow you to pay your water bill, register to vote, renew a driver's license or get a dog and bike license on the Internet is because they haven't decided to do it.

There are at least two major local companies that could handle the job, but they report that government hasn't asked.

City politicians, from the mayor down through the Council and the department heads, claim one of the virtues of municipal government is quickly dealing with real problems, and providing real solutions for real people.

Let's see how fast the city would be if it were running on Internet time.

Richard Borreca reports on Hawaii's politics every Wednesday.
He can be reached by e-mail at

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