Members return from travel with innovative ideas

Though we have technology to transcend boundaries across the globe, travel is an investment public officials should sometimes make to advance their learning.

As St. Augustine wrote, “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.”

I joined Mayor Alan Arakawa and several council members with other community leaders from Hawaii in the 8th Ambassadors, Consuls General and Tourism Directors Tour to the Philippines last month.

We had a busy schedule centered in Manila, where traffic was unbelievable. It was an intense experience for us, but a way of life for the locals.

Everyone moved around within their means – via rail, bus, scooters, jeepneys, pedicabs or tricycles.

We met President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III and several local mayors and council members. We visited councils’ chambers and were impressed with their use of technology, including interactive communications from remote sites and large video screens for those in the gallery.

We were often advised “don’t drink tap water” when in the Philippines. We asked this question at our informative tour of an underground wastewater facility run by Manila Water Co.

The concern was validated when company officials informed us that their water is safe to drink and initially meets all standards for potability. However, they can’t guarantee the cleanliness of water from individual faucets.

This trip allowed us to learn about some practices we can tailor to fit our needs and generated international good will for Maui County.

In Fort Worth, Texas, later in July, several council members also attended the 78th annual Conference of the National Association of Counties, where our own Council Member Riki Hokama was installed as first vice president.

More than 2,300 municipal-government leaders congregated at the conference, which is also known as the County Solutions and Idea Marketplace. This year’s theme – “Why Counties Matter” – featured discussions on energy, technology, public safety, land use, the environment and other county concerns.

Discussion about important federal legislative initiatives, such as NACo’s efforts to maintain tax-exempt status for municipal bonds, featured Obama administration officials and members of Congress.

Maui County Council members, along with legislative and administration staff, learned how some counties are advancing with paperless environments and other information-technology projects. Enhanced Web-based dissemination of documents was of particular interest to our county’s delegation.

As council chair, I’m eager to learn about policies we may adopt to enhance services to the community. I aim to push for improved communication strategies to facilitate transparency and outreach, including through our use of social media.

A wide array of information technology solutions were encouraged throughout the NACo conference. Maui County officials exchanged ideas – and made connections – with those around the country who are interested in these projects.

From Texas and the Philippines, we all will reconvene in the Council Chambers to tackle legislation.

We return with an enhanced breadth of knowledge and understanding of what’s happening in the world, so we can make more-well-informed policy decisions.

Equally important, we have fostered professional networks and lasting relationships with others who pursue government innovation.

* Gladys C. Baisa is chairwoman of the Maui County Council and holds the council’s Pukalani-Kula-Ulupalakua area residency seat. “Chair’s 3 Minutes” is a weekly column to explain the latest news on county legislative matters.