Baisa believes she knows how to get things done and how county government can be improved, thanks, in part, to her decades-long career at Maui Economic Development (MEO), a nonprofit that operates with the efficiency of a business.
“I come from a large organization,” Baisa noted. “The only way to run a large organization is through teamwork and good communications. I have never been in an organization that did not have a training manual.”
Baisa’s “training” came from Councilmember Mike Molina.
Councilwoman Gladys Coelho Baisa
“I can’t thank Mike enough,” she said, pointing out he advised her on how much to pay her staff, where to park and “this and that.”
Questions and candid answers continued.
She was asked how hard it is being on the council.
“The meetings go on and on,” she said. “It’s just the sheer physical commitment. During the budget hearings, most of us get sick.”
Baisa got pneumonia her first year on the council, but insisted her doctor give her antibiotics. “I can’t miss any meeting. I can’t stay home,” she told him. And she got through it.
“We don’t eat well… after a while, your stomach hurts because you are eating poorly and not resting,” Baisa said. “That is the price to pay.”
How do you sit still during all the testimony?
“If a hundred people testify, you may have to sit there from 9 o’clock in the morning until 9 o’clock at night,” Baisa replied. “It becomes an endurance contest. You try to stay focused and not to have your mind wander and fall asleep, because you want to hear what people say.”
How much attention do members really pay to testimony, when dozens testify on one side and you seem to ignore what they say?
“It seems frustrating,” said Baisa. “If you have been here a while, you begin to know the testifiers. They tend to be articulate, involved people who have strong feelings about things. When they stand up, you know who they are. ‘Oh, there is that lady. I know what she is going to say. The water is poison and you can’t use it.’ The same people say the same things over and over. But what really grabs me is the person who has never been here before, who comes in and says, ‘I am here because I am really concerned about this or that.’ You know that this is from the heart—it isn’t part of an organized group.”
Can you give an example of paying attention to people?
“When I was doing the B&B work [bed and breakfasts], I started by being totally against it,” said Baisa. “All I had read and everything I had heard was negative. They were closing people down. This was ruining our neighborhoods. I started to look at the money involved. I got a very convincing paper... showing $317 million was involved. I realized this was really an important industry that we were killing. I became their advocate. This was about education and really listening to what is going on.”
What about taxes?
“We need money to run this county,” she said. “If we don’t have more money, how are we going to get rid of injection wells? How are we going to get more water Upcountry? How are we going to pay our police and fire who get negotiated pay raises that we can’t do anything about [such as a recent 6 percent raise]? We can control costs to some degree, but why is it that people think can pay less property taxes?
“We don’t pay very much in comparison to anyone else; even statewide, we pay the least,” she continued. “We have the most generous homeowner exemption. The rest of the country has an $80,000 exemption or less—we have $300,000.
“We need the money,” she reiterated. “How are we going to pay our bills? There is a point of no return. People want a new park, want a new road, want a new ball field. They want parks maintained, more police, more fire. Where do they think this money is coming from?”
The county fails to collect a lot of money it is owed. Is that the mayor’s responsibility?
“We have back property taxes uncollected; we have impact fees uncollected,” she said. “It is the responsibility of the mayor who hires the financial people to make sure they get the money. It is their job.”
Is bureaucracy the problem?
“Over 10 to 15 years, government has not been efficient,” Baisa said. “It almost seems we tend to work in government by tradition. This is how we always do it. We have a really hard time with change.”
What advice would you give to the new mayor?
“Be sure to pick the right people.” she replied. “You have to hire the best and brightest. Plus, meet weekly with the head of the council to make sure everyone is moving in the same direction.”
And the council members?
“Learn to work with the majority and not be combative,” said Baisa. “Fight for the people in your district and get to know them.”
Any last word?
“I really care about what I do,” she concluded.
It is clear to me that this County Council member would make a pretty good mayor.
“A procession of people here want me to run,” she said.
For a lady approaching 70 who wanted to retire at 65, that kind of work schedule seems too daunting. But as she points out, she will continue to serve the public as she has for more than 40 years by remaining on the council—as grueling as it can be.
Columnist’s note: This column challenges old and new council members and anyone else to offer their ideas on what could and should be done to improve our county government.
Ideas can be submitted anonymously to promote free and open discussion.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org your comments or call 667-0589