Advertisement - Click to support our sponsors.

Friday, March 31, 2000

Civil defense
chief weighs
bigger job

The popular Big Island
official is retiring, but many
want him as mayor and
he's considering it

By Rod Thompson
Big Island correspondent


HILO -- After 24 years as Hawaii County's Civil Defense chief, Harry Kim will retire June 30.

Then maybe he'll run for mayor.

Kim, 60, insisted he really doesn't know if he wants to run. Once he retires, he will take at least three days off by himself some place in a natural setting to clear his mind, he said.

If Kim is undecided, many in the public aren't. After word about Kim's intentions got out, his office received supporting phone calls all day, said deputy civil defense administrator Bruce Butts.

Kim began the job as an interim appointee in 1976, then received it permanently less than a year later when the post became a civil service job.

From the start, he redesigned the job. Kim reduced disaster instructions to short statements less than one page long that could be read over the radio.

"I'm a simple-minded person. I can't read a lot during emergencies," he said.

His voice on the radio eventually became more familiar than that of any other government official.

His biggest test began in 1983, when one lava flow after another destroyed home after home in the Kalapana area. Kim set to work protecting property.

"I was almost a typical bureaucrat with that authority type of mentality," he said. "You have the authority to keep people out, to order people out."

Then local kupuna Morna Simeona sat him down. He won't say exactly what she told him. "She gave me a prayer kind of thing. I learned a lot from her," he said.

"I started to look at people. I'm not there to protect their car, to protect their house. You're here for them. That's what you're paid for. You find yourself backing off from all your bureaucratic, non-feeling ways."

Kim's dedication became so thorough that he closed his family kim chee business. It was impossible to do anything less, he said.

The recent discovery of a dead whale in West Hawaii illustrates the process, he said. It was a small incident, yet numerous state and county agencies were involved, each one trying to figure out who was in charge. But all agencies were used to Hawaii County Civil Defense serving as a coordinator.

If he runs for mayor, Kim has a concept of how things should be.

People need the opportunity for good jobs, he said. "Some people really worry about, 'Am I going to have enough to eat tomorrow.' " But that doesn't mean fostering projects that permit "the dominance of a few people," he said.

Kim would run as a Republican, but suggests no one should read too much into that.

"The image of politics sucks, Republican or Democrat," he said. "If I go into this race, I'll run on my image."

E-mail to City Desk

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]

© 2000 Honolulu Star-Bulletin