Molokai council candidates back for a Round 3
Stacy Crivello challenges Keani Rawlins-Fernandez for her old seat
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 Molokai 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.
On the night of Nov. 6, 2018, Keani Rawlins-Fernandez was trailing Council Member Stacy Helm Crivello by 1,000 votes. Crivello had held the lead for most of the evening in a contest that was turning out to be the closest of the Maui County Council races.
But at 9:37 p.m. as more districts reported, Rawlins-Fernandez leapfrogged ahead, going on to secure the seat with 22,049 votes, or 43.7 percent, to Crivello’s 20,583 votes, or 40.8 percent.
Now two years later, the candidates are back for another rematch with one victory apiece — Crivello in 2016 and Rawlins-Fernandez in 2018. This time Rawlins-Fernandez is the incumbent and Crivello is the challenger.
While both are focused on economic recovery, one of the key issues setting them apart is their stances on the proposed charter amendments, which Crivello sees as a council power grab and Rawlins-Fernandez sees as righting the scales.
How voters feel about the charter amendments and the past records of both elected officials will determine who wins the third showdown on Nov. 3.
STACY HELM CRIVELLO
After two employees of Friendly Market tested positive for COVID-19 in early April, Stacy Helm Crivello quickly sat down with the mayor. The island had seen zero cases at that point, and residents were alarmed over the virus reaching their small, tight-knit community.
“I became the liaison from the businesses and automatically sat down with the mayor, mayor responds and the very next day the sanitizer was on the island,” Crivello said.
The company cleaned up the businesses, residents went on high alert and the island didn’t see another case for four more months.
Crivello is hoping that the work she’s done for Molokai as the mayor’s community liaison and as a former council member will convince voters to send her back to the council seat she held from 2013 to 2018. She said she’s running again at the request of both Molokai and Maui voters.
“The number one thing to address and work with the administration (on) is to how we’re going to keep our people safe and respond to the pandemic, which is devastating in more ways than one, and how we are going to respond to the 27,000 people that are now unemployed,” Crivello said.
While Molokai is less reliant on tourism than Maui, the island already had the highest unemployment in the state prior to the pandemic. Crivello said during her time on the council, “my whole intent then was to create more entrepreneurs.” Molokai has no shortage of creative residents who’ve spun arts, crafts, food and value-added products into small business ventures.
“First of all you have to create a niche for the island,” Crivello said. “We have to look at what’s compatible for what our community wants.”
The overabundant deer population, for example, is a source of both food and frustration. While Molokai currently has a slaughterhouse, Crivello said one thing she would like to push for is a portable slaughterhouse that could be taken to hunters, as well as a facility that would help residents create value-added products like venison jerky.
Crivello also looks toward long-term economic investment, such as supporting robotics and STEM programs. While on the council, Crivello sought funding for robotics programs at Molokai schools, starting off with $5,000 and expanding to about $25,000 by the time she left the council. Students on Molokai have earned a reputation for excellence in robotics, securing spots in world competitions and moving on to top colleges.
Another accomplishment Crivello points to during her time in office was the council’s decision to reduce the workforce housing development requirement for projects from 50 percent to 25 percent.
“Only then did we get homes built for people to afford,” said Crivello, the former chairwoman of the council Housing, Human Services and Transportation Committee. “I think that’s a big accomplishment because builders were not building at all with the 50 percent.”
If reelected, Crivello said one of her main goals is to “cut costs on government expenditures.” During Rawlins-Fernandez’s first year as budget chairwoman, the council increased the mayor’s proposed budget by about $43 million.
“Those are the kind of things that we get concerned about, you know, just throwing monies away,” Crivello said.
Now, with a proposed charter amendment to create a county Department of Agriculture, Crivello worries that the county will incur more costs and says it’s not the right time for county government to expand.
Crivello said one of the areas she would prioritize for spending would be public safety, making sure that firefighters, police and lifeguards are well funded. She’d also focus on parks and addressing the homeless population. When asked where she might make cuts, Crivello said she wasn’t sure and would have to do an assessment first.
In addition to concerns over cost, Crivello also believed that some of the charter amendments would give the council more power than the administration, including the proposal to allow the council to nominate nine members of the Charter Commission instead of letting the mayor nominate all 11. She pointed out that the council already had the power to vet and approve the mayor’s nominations.
“So why is it that they want full control?” she asked. “Is the council supposed to be the administration and policymakers?”
She also worried that the amendment to create a county manager — who would take over some of the mayor’s duties such as appointing department directors — would throw off the balance of power, thrusting an unelected official into a position to make emergency decisions like the mayor is doing in the pandemic.
While she currently works closely with Mayor Michael Victorino, her former colleague on the council, Crivello insisted that she could operate independently of the mayor’s office if elected.
“I’m not an extension of the mayor,” she said. “I’m an extension of the people. But I would know how to collaborate better. You have to no matter who’s the mayor.”
When she ran for the Molokai residency seat in 2018, Keani Rawlins-Fernandez envisioned a cap of zero short-term rental permits on the island. Molokai residents were worried about strangers in their neighborhoods, and most of the 19 permitted rentals at the time were owned by people off island.
A year after she took office, the Maui County Council passed a bill banning short-term rentals on Molokai, a move that Rawlins-Fernandez points to as proof of her ability to stick to her word.
“Fulfilling my campaign promises to the community I think is a very strong strategy in proving that I have integrity, that my word means something, and that when I tell the community that this is a high priority and that I will work on these things on behalf of them as their representative, I will carry or follow through,” she said.
Rawlins-Fernandez is defending her seat against Crivello, this time as the incumbent with a two-year record in office, during which she quickly ascended to council vice-chair and budget chair.
In addition to the short-term rental bill, Rawlins-Fernandez pointed to the tax reform measures passed by the council last year, which created tiered tax rates that would distinguish between owner-occupied and nonowner-occupied homes and charge more for higher-priced properties. Rawlins-Fernandez, who chaired the three-person temporary investigative group that looked into the tax reform, said that the changes allowed the county “to reduce the taxes to provide relief to our homeowners and for our businesses.” She also referenced a bill she proposed to create a Commission on Healing Solutions for Homelessness, an advisory group on homelessness and poverty that she said was the first of its kind in the state.
Rawlins-Fernandez still has more things she’d like to tackle if reelected, starting with economic recovery, investing in industries like technology, health care, film, food security, and looking at jobs that can be done remotely in light of the pandemic.
One idea she’s been mulling is getting local consultants to do the studies and plans that the county and state pay Mainland contractors hundreds of thousands, if not millions, to complete. It’s a job that could be done remotely and locally, and she envisions the county working with the college to offer classes that equip local residents to carry out such studies.
“If we could build that kind of capacity within our own county, then we keep our taxpayer dollars circulating here,” she said.
When asked what the county could do to find additional sources of revenue moving forward, Rawlins-Fernandez said, “that’s the billion dollar question.” She said the county has to work with the state “to figure out ways of expanding economic opportunities, bringing down the cost of housing, the cost of food and goods.”
That can be done by growing local and investing local, she said, pointing to community initiatives like the Maui Food Hub and the Molokai Mobile Market, both of which allow customers to purchase food from local farmers online.
“I think with the Young Brothers rates going up that that’s the best direction for us to take, is to keep it more local as much as possible,” she said.
During her first budget session, the council passed an $823.6 million budget that was $43 million more than the mayor’s. But Rawlins-Fernandez felt concerns of overspending based on last year’s budget “almost seems like a moot point” now that the county is in a pandemic. With the loss of revenue, the county will have little choice but to reduce the budget or keep it flat moving forward.
“I think the administration and the council are kind of on the same page where we just want to make sure that we’re able to pay the bills to keep county operating,” she said.
This year, the council asked departments to make cuts and trimmed the mayor’s proposal by $47 million for a final budget of $822.6 million.
“I think with my leadership as budget chair in painstakingly going through the budget this year, reducing the mayor’s budget and anticipating the revenue shortfalls . . . I would think that the community has seen my ability to also reduce the budget,” she said.
She added that one practice she’d like to implement is having the council review the community plans before the annual budget session, seeing what needs to be funded in each district and using the plans as something of a checklist.
Rawlins-Fernandez disagreed with Crivello’s belief that the charter amendments would give the council more power, saying the proposal to give nine Charter Commission appointments to the council and two to the mayor would give more power and transparency to the community. She said the current and previous mayors would not make public the applicants for boards and commissions, making it “impossible to choose the best person for the job.”
She also supported the idea of a county manager, saying it would save the county money and offer continuity. And, because the mayor would get to hire the person through a process involving the mayor, council and a three-member citizens group, the council would not have any more power than the mayor, she said.
“I understand the concern of some people like my opponent is that the council is trying to snatch away power from the mayor,” she said. “How we’ve operated was with, in my perspective, an unbalanced executive and legislative branch. . . . Right now, the executive branch has taken more power, and it’s throwing off the balance of the three branches.”
* Colleen Uechi can be reached at email@example.com.
Current occupation: Maui County Council Member
Volunteer/community organization experience: Board director, Office of Hawaiian Affairs’ Native Hawaiian Revolving Loan Fund, 2017-20; board director, Molokai Child Abuse Prevention Pathways, 2017-2018; president, Ho’olehua Hawaiian Civic Club, 2016-present; chairwoman, Legislative Working Group on Access to Justice Student Bar Association, William S. Richardson School of Law, 2013-15; vice president, Law and Business Organization, 2013-15; Molokai Canoe Racing Association representative, co-chairperson of E Malama i ke Kai Committee, Punana Leo o Manoa, 2012-14.
Military service: None
Political experience: Maui County Council vice chair, 2018-present; council Economic Development and Budget Committee chair, 2018-present; legislative aide for state House Rep. (now Sen.) Jarrett Keohokalole, 2015 session.
Family: Married, two children
Stacy Helm Crivello
Residence: Kalamaula, Molokai
Current occupation: Community liaison, Maui County Mayor’s Office
Volunteer/community organization experience: Founding member/past board member of Molokai Land Trust; founding member, Molokai East Watershed Project; former board member, Kalamaula Homesteaders Association; founding member, Molokai Community Health Center; founding member, Molokai Dialysis Facility; board of directors, Na Puuwai Hawaiian Health System; former state advisory member, Community Based Economic Development; former board member, Hawaii Alliance for Community-Based Economic Development; former chair, Maui County Public Safety and Fire Commission; former board member, Maui County Board of Water Supply; Youth Ministry; former PTSA president for Molokai High School; former board president, Molokai Enterprise Community.
Military service: None
Political experience: Maui County Council member, 2013-2018; former chairwoman of the council Housing, Human Services and Transportation Committee.
Family: Single, four children, six grandchildren, one great-grandson