Testimony: Hawaii County could use ‘Konno’ exceptions to address permit backlog

The following oral testimony was presented Oct. 27, 2022, by Joe Kent, executive vice president of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, for consideration by the Hawaii County Cost of Government Commission.

The testimony concerned the commission’s October 2022 report, which made recommendations on how to improve county government operations.

To see Kent’s the presentation, click on the video below. A transcript also is provided.

To see Institute policy researcher Jonathan Helton’s written testimony on the same topic, go here.

10-27-22 Joe Kent presenting oral testimony to the Hawaii County Cost of Government Commission.

Joe Kent: Aloha everyone, my name is Joe Kent. I’m the executive vice president of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii. 

Michael Koniwicz: Thank you for joining us. What was your name again?

Kent: Joe Kent.

Konowicz: Joe Kent, great. You have three minutes to provide your testimony to this commission, starting now.

Kent: Well, I would just like to commend the commission for going through this process. I read the cost of government commission report and I agree with many of the recommendations that you’re making. I’d like to talk a bit about “Konno,” just like Jonathan [Helton] did, but also about permitting. 

I just got back from Georgia and the town of John’s Creek, Georgia, has a permitting department that is run by civil servants, but when the backlog is too much for the civil servants to handle, they’ll outsource it to a private company. 

That ensures that there is no backlog, and when I went there, there was a guy waiting in line and he got his permit the same day. Typically, the permits are cleared in five to 10 days, and for that very reason, the complicated permits — for a hospital, for a big apartment complex — sometimes if that’s not able to be handled by the civil servants, they’ll just outsource it. 

Now “Konno” has a provision that has an exemption for special or unique services that are essential to the public and cannot be filled by civil servants. So, I’m just curious if that would qualify as a loophole where that could be done? Maybe not, but if not, the county should urge the Legislature to change that. 

Also, something that could be considered is third-party review, which is done in Honolulu. Basically they — the developer or person who wants to build — hires the third-party reviewer to review their permit and then the county rubber stamps it or looks at it lightly. And that’s nice — except the problem is there’s a misalignment of incentives because the developer could just pay the third-party reviewer and the third-party review could just rubber stamp it too. 

So that’s why a better incentive model is for the county to occasionally outsource that to a private company, [which] would then have oversight from the county. 

So anyways, I don’t want to get too complicated here. All I’m saying is that the private sector could be used as a solution to the permitting backlog. And we just again applaud your permissions and encouragement of the county to go that direction. 

Konowicz: Thank you so much for your testimony. 

Kent: Thank you.

Konowicz: We have a Zoom testifier. 

Woman: I’m not aware of that.

Konowicz: Well I see Mr. Helton is on Zoom. I don’t know if that’s uh …

Kent: I know that person, I don’t think that’s a testifier. 

Konowicz: OK. So, we have no other testimony. So, I’ll go to the commissioners, if they have any clarifying questions. Commissioner [Sharon] Matson, your hand is up. 

Sharon Matson: Thank you, yes. I just wanted to address both the gentlemen there in person. I wish you had provided testimony earlier in our process because I like that suggestion about dealing with the backlog and potentially looking at that as a solution. 

 i think it’s too late in our process at this point to include that, but maybe future commissioners will be open to exploring that idea further. 

And then I just wanted to ask: Are you both based on Hawaii island or did you travel from different island to provide testimony today? 

Kent: Well, we’re based in Honolulu, but I’m originally from the Big Island. I went to Hilo High — Kalanianiole, Hamakua coast area, so … and my dad lives here too. 

Matson: OK. I just wanted to thank you so much for taking the time to read our report and attend in person today. I’m sorry we’re not there in person as well. But it definitely seems to help with the efficiency for us to be able to participate remotely. 

So anyway, thank you both and please stay engaged for future commissions and provide this testimony earlier, if you’re able, in the process. Mahalo.

Kent: Mahalo.

Konowicz: And speaking of being engaged, this goes for you and your organization as well as the public who may be watching this after the fact. There’s still an opportunity to participate in our process. 

On Nov. 15th, we’re involved in a public meeting with the finance committee where that is our opportunity to share our report officially with the County Council. That’s a public meeting and there’s opportunities for the public to participate in that and provide testimony with regards to our uhm our report there. 

And then on Nov. 17th, we also have a public meeting with the mayor and the managing director. That also is a venue where testimony is welcome from the public. 

So, if you or others from the community would like to provide comments on our final report and recommendations, those are great opportunities for the public to do so, before our commission dissolves on Nov. 22nd. 

Kent: Thank you.  

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