Incumbent’s absence raised as issue in East Maui race

East Maui County Council Member Bob Carroll faced one of his toughest challenges this term when he was out of action for nearly five months because of a post-appendectomy complication from his surgery in April.

“You do not believe how frustrating it was,” Carroll said. “It was extremely difficult, but I’m very happy to be back. I’ve never been so happy to be back to work in my life.”

Carroll, 70, of Hana is seeking re-election for a third consecutive term to the East Maui residency seat. He also served from 2001 to 2006. He faces challengers Nick Nikhilananda and John Blumer-Buell.

Carroll maintains that health-wise, he is in “very good” condition and that his absence was caused by the aftermath of a surgery that left a hole about the size of a baseball in his body. Carroll was forced to go to Honolulu for reconstructive surgery. Later, he recovered at Hale Makua on Maui.

“My hospital room became an office, and it was surprising how many people would come see me over there, so that was pretty neat,” he said. “At least, I felt like I could still do something in there.”

His opponents pointed out his lack of attendance at community meetings and questioned his larger commitment to his rural community.

“I’ve never seen him in Huelo,” Nikhilananda said of Carroll. “We had a Haiku community meeting (recently) and half the people that were here were wondering where he was. I just never see him.”

Nikhilananda, 63, of Huelo is running for the Maui County Council for the sixth time, with his last effort in 2006. He said he believes the current council is not providing affordable housing, water and other essentials to “working-class people.” From his nearly 10 years of work as a producer and host for “Maui Talks-TV” – a live, 90-minute, call-in talk show on Akaku: Maui Community Television – he said he has become cognizant of these difficulties that exist in the county.

“I get a sense that people have reached a saturation point,” he said. “I have a passion and ability to articulate these issues . . . and through my live show people could talk about these issues, and I got a real sense of what people were interested in.”

Blumer-Buell, 66, of Hana has served on a number of boards and commissions over the years, including the Maui General Plan Advisory Committee for the past decade. The 25-member group appointed by the mayor and County Council provides comments, advice and recommendations to the county planning director on the Countywide Policy Plan and the Maui Island Plan.

“During that process, I looked at virtually every aspect of Maui,” Blumer-Buell said. “In the early evenings, we had meetings with very good attendance and participation, as well as workshops on many weekends, . . . and there appears to be a disconnect from the people and the government.”

Although Carroll has served on the council for a decade and is the council’s vice chairman, he said there are still “a lot of things that I really feel bad about not getting done.” That includes affordable housing, which he views as one of the most pressing issues in the county.

“If you go to any place on this island, . . . you’ll see how many cars are in front of the house in the evening. That’s because of how many people live in that house,” he said. “I pass by one house in Kahului and if I go late, there’s 10, 12 cars over there. That’s because there’s three families living in that home.”

Carroll, chairman of the council’s Land Use Committee, recently voted for an affordable housing project in Lahaina owned by the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation. The project near the Lahaina Cannery Mall calls for 64 units, Carroll said.

“It’s (affordable housing) something there’s a huge need on Maui, and I’m happy to say that at least I’ve done something,” he said.

Blumer-Buell criticized Carroll for allowing a few harmful and unwanted developments in Hana and for much-needed projects that have been ignored.

From the late 1980s, Blumer-Buell has been pushing for a master wastewater treatment system for Hana Bay, which receives runoff from cesspools and injection wells. He said divers have reported fecal matter and toilet paper coming out of lava tubes at the bay, and if not for the strong currents that circulate the water, “we’d be having traumatic outbreaks of staph infection.”

“This should have had the highest priority in the Hana Community Plan and nothing has been done,” he said.

Carroll said the county has talked for years about a wastewater plan for Hana Bay. He said he doesn’t know what happened to the proposals when he originally vacated his seat in 2006. He added, though, that a number of tests have been conducted in the region for pollution and that they all have come up negative.

“Hopefully in the next budget, we can appropriate some money for another study at the bay and have a discussion about the pollution and what you do with the reclaimed water for the system,” he said.

Issues the three candidates differed on include district voting and genetically modified foods.

Carroll’s challengers supported district-only voting, with Nikhilananda calling the current system “unconstitutional.” The incumbent said that the “common good” for the county would be lost in a change to district-only voting and that council members only would be “taking care of yourself.”

Nikhilananda said he is “100 percent in support” of a countywide moratorium on GMOs, which will appear on the Nov. 4 ballot. He added that there is “enough documentation and research to question GMOs” and their safety.

Blumer-Buell also supports the temporary ban on GMOs and urged biotech company Monsanto to work with the local community and “change their corporate culture in Hawaii.”

“I think Monsanto has been an unarguably a terrible world citizen,” he said. “They have a chance here to work with the community and that includes the survival of culture and environment for future generations.”

Carroll was neither for nor against the moratorium and said he would like the public to decide.

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at

**Editor’s note: This story is a continuation of Maui News coverage of contested election races for state and county political offices. The primary election is Saturday. Winners advance to the Nov. 4 general election.