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Shane Sinenci defends seat in rematch vs. Claire Carroll

Hana-grown candidates hope to represent East Maui community

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Maui News will be featuring the profiles and platforms of candidates in the lead up to the Nov. 3 general election. Today’s story focuses on the race for the Maui County Council East Maui residency seat. Stories on other races will be published in the coming weeks, with a special general election issue to be published on Oct. 24.

A longtime schoolteacher turned council member and the daughter of a former elected official looking to write her own story are facing off once more for the Maui County Council’s East Maui residency seat.

Shane Sinenci defeated Claire Kamalu Carroll with 23,654 votes, or 46.7 percent, to 19,467 votes, or 38.5 percent, in the 2018 general election. Since then, much has changed. The Road to Hana, once congested with cars, has gone quiet. East Maui residents have enjoyed the break from tourism but like many on Maui also struggle with unemployment and the economic downturn.

In a pandemic that’s highlighted the need for locally produced food and self-sustainability, Sinenci and Carroll’s stances on Sinenci’s proposed Department of Agriculture could become a key issue that differentiates the candidates and influences voters’ choices in November.

CLAIRE KAMALU CARROLL

After their dad was injured in a work accident in 1979, Claire Kamalu Carroll and her brother learned to hustle. They worked on a papaya farm. They cleaned yards. They hauled lobster traps from the boat that Carroll’s brother saved up money to buy.

“It really kicked in some good work ethics, because if we need something, we would have to go work for it,” Carroll said. “We cleaned yards just to get something we wanted, like a pair of pants.”

Carroll hopes the work ethic instilled from a young age will propel her to the Maui County Council’s East Maui residency seat. It’s the same position her father, Bob Carroll, held for seven terms, though the younger Carroll is looking to carve out her own path.

“I am my own person,” she said. “I am not ashamed of my last name at all, but I am surely one who is looking out for my community as a whole.”

Her family’s story, however, is indelibly linked to the person she has become. She remembers growing up so poor that when their dad would give them a lobster for dinner, “we’d take um to the school and sell um to one teacher.” Her brother saved up money to buy a boat, and the family made enough off lobsters and fish to buy another boat. In between sports and her job at the gas station, Carroll went out with her dad to pick up traps three times a week.

“I am very grateful with how my life turned out, because it made me a hard worker,” she said.

Carroll’s decision to run for office again was spurred partly by the pandemic, and partly because of the ongoing issues in East Maui — housing, infrastructure and agriculture.

A member of the Hawaii Farmers Union United Hana Chapter who volunteers at Mahele Farms, Carroll said she’s concerned about Sinenci’s proposal to create a new county Department of Agriculture. She worries that it will create more hoops for farmers to jump through and take funding away from other departments who have already had to make cuts during the economic downturn.

“What are we really taking away from?” Carroll asked. “For me, I see it as an overall more cost to our taxpayers.”

If elected, Carroll said she would seek out federal grants and find ways to help farmers survive, such as putting up fence lines to protect from invasive species. She also favors the idea of work programs that would employ and teach students, with incentives that could include allowing them to sell some of the products they grow.

“I can tell you a lot of my generation . . . the kalo farmers, every time in school they would be like, ‘You know what, when I graduate, I’m out of here.’ That’s why I said, we not short of kalo, we short of the farmers,” Carroll said.

While economic opportunities are scarce and often tourism-reliant, Carroll believes there is plenty of talent and potential entrepreneurs out in Hana, like the people who’ve been selling plate lunches just to make some extra income during the pandemic.

“We need someone to come in and assist people with great ideas in starting their own business here in Hana,” she said, adding that they would likely look to capitalize on online sales.

Over the past few months, the pandemic has brought some peace and quiet to Hana, but some visitors may return with the launch of the pre-travel testing program Oct. 15. As president of the Hana Community Association, Carroll and other community leaders have been meeting with Sen. J. Kalani English to discuss a potential reservation system for Waianapanapa State Park and potentially offering local food truck or restaurant vendors from which visitors could pre-order food. Carroll said it’s the perfect time to get a reservation system rolling, not only because it’s worked on Kauai but because the returning visitor numbers will likely be low.

“I truly believe we’re not even going to get close to where we were,” she said. “So learn from our mistakes. Education — big. The management is actually the education. You cannot spank somebody if they didn’t know.”

SHANE SINENCI

Shane Sinenci was cutting fish in Alaska when he got offered the job as a special needs teacher in Hana in the early 1990s. Sinenci didn’t major in education; he’d just graduated from the University of Oregon with a degree in architecture. But the public school system and his hometown had a need, so Sinenci answered the call, returning to Hana where he spent the next two decades teaching, coaching and volunteering in local organizations.

“The last 20 years as a teacher was also being part of my community politically, and so that prepared me for representing my community at the council,” he said.

Now coming off his first term as a council member — and on the cusp of getting his master’s in education administration — Sinenci is hoping he’ll get a second shot at representing his community. To do that, he’ll have to beat Carroll again on the strength of his two-year record.

As chairman of the council Environmental, Agricultural and Cultural Preservation Committee, Sinenci said that one of the things they began discussing early on was the hiring of a first-ever county-employed archaeologist. Sinenci said the county had gotten many calls about the shortfalls of the State Historic Preservation Department and the protection of cultural sites. The council put funding in the budget for a position and Janet Six was hired in June.

Sinenci also pointed to a bill banning single-use disposable plastics, which was proposed by former Council Member Elle Cochran, passed out of Sinenci’s committee in February and approved by the full council in April.

He is also the author of a charter amendment proposing the creation of a county Department of Agriculture, which has spurred some opposition from farmers concerned it will create another layer of red tape. Sinenci said the amendment specifies that the department would not add more regulatory barriers on farmers. Rather, it focuses on boosting food security, directing resources to food hubs and new industries and helping farmers get funding.

“Just from listening from farmers, they don’t have time to go after a lot of the grants and funding that is out there,” he said.

Sinenci pointed out that the county already spends more than $8.5 million in agricultural grants and has an agricultural specialist under the Office of Economic Development who could move to a new department.

“This is just to solidify our investment in our food security, that we make sure that water is set aside to grow food, we make sure that land which is mostly agricultural zoned is set aside for food production,” he said.

In Hana, Sinenci also sees potential for supporting local farmers. He said residents have long wanted a community kitchen and that the old cafeteria at the Hana Community Center could serve as a food innovation center where farmers could process their crops and make value-added products.

The son of a former hotel housekeeper and food and beverage manager, Sinenci knows how much the fates of residents and businesses are linked to tourism. However, he hopes construction will prove to be another viable industry for East Maui residents, especially the younger generation or those who are unemployed. He also wants to see the expansion of health care in the area and said the county is working with the Maui Invasive Species Committee to get them to hire more people in Hana.

With the return of tourists potentially around the corner, Sinenci said that he’s been working closely with the state Department of Transportation and English on creating a reservation system at state parks to help mitigate the traffic on the Road to Hana.

Like Carroll, he thinks education is key to tourism management. This year, the council set aside $200,000 for visitor education. Sinenci said that signage is “always the low-hanging fruit” but that the county could also look to apps to inform visitors of places where it’s safe to stop, good spots to picnic, bathroom locations and more. He also suggested placing individual rangers in high-traffic areas.

Ultimately, Sinenci said, if the Maui community is going to survive the pandemic, “we need to malama each other and mahele each other, meaning if we get extra, we going share.”

“I think as a community leader we want to enhance that idea to care for one another, especially during this time,” he said.

_______________

Claire Kamalu Carroll

Age: 51

Town of Residence: Hana

Current occupation: Caregiver

Volunteer / community organization experience: Hana Community Association president, Hana Advisory Committee to the Maui Planning Commission, Tropic Care 2018 lead coordinator for Hana, Neighborhood Crime Watch founder and organizer for Hana, Kupuna Kare, Community work day, Project Ho’omana, Maui County Enrichment Program for Hana, Maui Food Bank, Maui Invasive Species Committee volunteer for miconia eradication, food distribution volunteer for County of Maui at Binhi at Ani and Hana Farmers Market

Military Service: None

Political experience: None

Family: Single, three children, six grandchildren

_______________

Shane Michael Sinenci

Age: 53

Town of Residence: Hana

Current occupation: Council member/educator

Volunteer / community organization experience: Hana Community Association, Hana Advisory Committee to the Maui Planning Commission, ‘Aha Moku Hana Region

Military Service: None

Political experience: Maui County Council, 2019 to present; Maui Metropolitan Planning Organization

Family: Single

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.

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