Published in The Maui News, August 2, 2015
By MIKE WHITE, for The Maui News
Accompanied by hula performers and plentiful lei, Maui County Council Member Riki Hokama of Lanai concluded a successful term as president of the National Association of Counties last month by leading NACo’s 80th Annual Conference in Mecklenburg County, N.C.
Hokama reported to the nation’s 3,069 counties on his efforts of the past year.
Working with Congress, the Obama administration and other local government organizations, Hokama helped ensure county governments and their constituents were always at the table during Washington’s policy deliberations.
Hokama’s presidential initiative was to strengthen America’s transportation and infrastructure services. He’s been leading NACo’s fight for reauthorization of the federal surface transportation bill, which has been hotly debated on Capitol Hill within the last few days.
Under Hokama’s leadership, NACo also helped counties retain federal funding for key programs, including $423 million for Payments in Lieu of Taxes and $276.1 million for Secure Rural Schools. NACo, the National League of Cities and other advocacy groups have also been successful in protecting the tax-exempt status of municipal bonds.
Another highlight of Hokama’s term was the outreach campaign “Why Counties Matter,” which educates the media and public about the importance of local government in everyone’s lives. The social media hashtag #CountiesMatter provides daily reminders of county governments’ work in public safety, transportation, recreation, planning, economic development and so many other areas.
Indeed, people are recognizing the vital role of local governments. According to recent polling among all levels of government, counties receive the highest favorability ratings.
As Hokama has often said, the pyramid of governmental structure is being flipped, with local governments now at the top and the most relevant in people’s daily lives.
NACo is also helping municipalities make better use of technology. The County Explorer, at explorer.naco.org, provides more than 700 data sets to help elected officials and constituents become more informed about policy issues in local communities.
In an especially proud moment at the NACo conference, Hokama presented $10,000 presidential scholarships to outstanding high school seniors Luke Kikukawa of Molokai and Marc Austin Pader of Lanai. It was also gratifying that two Maui County Council enterprises – the news site mauicounty.us and the 2015 council calendar brochure – received special recognition from NACo affiliate National Association of County Information Officers at the conference.
As immediate past president, Hokama is still part of NACo’s executive committee and retains a seat on the board. All four Hawaii counties are represented in NACo leadership, including Honolulu City Council Member Ikaika Anderson, Kauai County Council Member KipuKai Kuali’i and Hawaii County Council Member Dennis Onishi.
We all look forward to working with new NACo President Sallie Clark of El Paso County, Colo., with her new initiative, “Safe and Secure Counties.”
* Mike White is chair of the Maui County Council. He holds the council seat for the Paia-Haiku-Makawao residency area. “Chair’s 3 Minutes” is a weekly column to explain the latest news on county legislative matters. Go to mauicounty.us for more information.