* EDITOR'S NOTE - This is the third in a series of stories covering contested legislative and County Council seats and County Charter and state constitutional amendments leading up to the Nov. 6 general election.
After a first term highlighted by passage of short-term vacation rental regulations and work toward a Maui Island Plan for future growth, Don Couch says he hopes to be re-elected to the Maui County Council's South Maui residency seat so he can continue the work.
"There is a lot of work ahead," said Couch, who took office after defeating incumbent Wayne Nishiki two years ago. "I'm running on my record. I'm very proud of my record. I hear a lot of good comments from the community, so I think I'm doing fine."
But challenger Alana Kay said she believes that voters want another choice. She says she is a fiscally conservative registered Republican with concerns about the effects on the ocean of more development that creates erosion and runoff.
"I care as much about the budget as I care about the aina," Kay said. "I don't believe in tax-and-spend politics. I think we do a lot of that. I think our budget is a lot bigger than it used to be."
"I have a lot of real life experience I bring to the table," said Kay, who describes herself as "a single mother of a single mother" and owner of a vacation rental cleaning business.
Maui County Council
(South Maui residency seat)
Born: May 29, 1956; Long Beach, Calif.
Occupation: Maui County Council member since 2011
Education: Long Beach Community College, 1974-76; and Boise State University, 1985-86
Community involvement: Vice chairman of Akaku: Maui Community Television; former president and treasurer of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Maui; former board member of the Kihei Community Association; former chairman of Maui County Board of Ethics
Born: Dec. 19, 1959; Milwaukee
Occupation: Prestige Cleaning Maui; full-time student at the University of Hawaii Maui College
Community involvement: Girl Scouts of America, Junior Achievement, Underground Switchboard (Crisis Line)
Family: Single, three children, five grandchildren
"I decided to run because I feel I have a unique viewpoint to bring to the table," she said. "A lot of the politicians we have are narrow-minded. It doesn't mean they're bad people. A lot of the people in South Maui were saying, 'The council just isn't listening to me.' A lot of people pushed me to run."
Couch, who works as an information technology consultant, said he has heard the opposite from constituents.
"I have been hearing from my community that this is the first time in a long time they have had access to their councilman," he said. "I answer all my emails, my phone calls. I'm always open. I've always listened. If people are saying I haven't listened to them, it's because they haven't asked me anything."
He disputed Kay's contention about overspending in the county budget, saying the council has been fiscally responsible.
"We have cut back as much as we can on expansion positions," Couch said. "We cut down on a lot of overtime."
As for the practice of giving "bonuses" to office staff, which was in the news earlier this year, Couch said he doesn't expect that to recur because he has raised his staff salaries "to what I wanted to pay them to begin with."
Couch gave salary supplements of $4,000 overall, $2,000 each to two full-time employees on Dec. 15. He said he gave the supplements at the end of his first full year in office, after initially setting staff salaries low until he had a chance to see what it cost to run his office.
"Do you call that a bonus? I don't know," Couch said.
Most recently, he said he returned $1,400 to the county general fund from money allotted to council members to run their offices.
As a small-business owner facing tough economic times, Kay said she can see why people were concerned about the council staff bonuses.
"When they see government just spending money really freely, it tends to rub people the wrong way," she said. "I feel government employees' income seems to be protected while everybody else seems to have to scramble for the scraps."
Kay said she started a newspaper for the Tea Party but is no longer with the organization "because my beliefs don't align well enough."
She said she's concerned about balancing development with infrastructure needs and the ecosystem. During recent heavy rains, she said runoff had muddied waters off South Maui to the point that it had gotten "brown in a way we've never seen it before."
"It's really critical," she said. "The balance in the ecosystem is already off."
If elected, Kay said, "I really feel like I'll always try to carry out the viewpoint of the public."
Even though plans for two outlet malls in Kihei aren't before the council, Kay said that if elected she would try to convey the community's concerns, as state Rep. George Fontaine and state Sen. Roz Baker did when they wrote letters to the state Land Use Commission pointing out discrepancies between the current projects and original proposals for a light industrial development.
On the malls, Couch said that "regardless of my position, the council has no legal authority to do anything more."
He said the project had passed the council on a 9-to-0 vote when Nishiki was the South Maui representative on the council. Minutes of the proceedings mention that the project could be 100 percent retail, Couch said.
"I have been hearing from a lot of people both in Kihei and countywide that this is a good project, and they would like to have it here, instead of getting on the plane and going to Waikele," Couch said.
In his first term on the council, Couch has been vice chairman of the General Plan Committee, which has been completing work on maps to guide future growth and development for the next two decades.
As chairman of the Planning Committee, Couch pushed for passage of a short-term vacation rental bill that established regulations and a permitting process while also capping the number of permits for regions on Maui.
"I'm pleased we came up with something that most people liked," Couch said. "That was huge."
Noting that there have been several 5-to-4 votes in the current council, Couch said, "This council is a very interesting council."
"It's never been the same five people all the time," he said. "We're all a bunch of good independent thinkers. We're not sticking as a voting block because we have our own opinions."
During a second term, Couch said he wants to focus on regulations for home-based businesses, both to allow them to be permitted and to provide for easier enforcement when there are violations.
"There are a lot of home-based businesses that should be OK and a lot that shouldn't," he said.
For example, he said businesses bringing noise and excessive traffic into a neighborhood would be undesirable. But having an accountant, lawyer or massage therapist working with a limited number of clients from home would be acceptable, as long as the neighborhood approves, he said.
Couch has garnered endorsements from the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers, International Longshore and Warehouse Union, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Hawaii Carpenters Union, Hawaii Firefighters Association and Realtors Association of Maui.
While Kay said she doesn't have as much name recognition as Couch, she hopes to do well.
"I think Don and I are good people," Kay said. "I think we're very different people. It just depends on what kind of council the people want."
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.