Fresh faces on council

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The next Hawaii County Council is starting to take shape following the primary election.

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The next Hawaii County Council is starting to take shape following the primary election.

Many will be familiar faces when the new term starts in December, but there are more than a few newcomers.

Of the nine council members, five will be incumbents, while another four — two of whom will be decided in the Nov. 8 general election — will make up the freshman class.

The newbies so far include Jen Ruggles of Fern Acres, who beat District 5 council member Daniel Paleka in the Aug. 13 primary, and Tim Richards of Waimea, who unseated District 9 council member Margaret Wille.

The seats that went undecided in the primary are Hilo’s District 3 and Puna’s District 4. Both are open races without an incumbent running.

In District 3, Sue Lee Loy, a county Water Board member and planning consultant, and Moana Kelii, a Hawaii Government Employees Association union agent and former social worker, will face off in November.

The winner will replace council member Dennis “Fresh” Onishi, who is term-limited. He unsuccessfully ran for state Senate District 1 in the Democratic primary.

The District 4 race will see Eileen Ohara, a University of Hawaii at Hilo adjunct faculty member, versus Madie Greene, president of Nanawale Community Association.

That seat is now held by council member Greggor Ilagan, who lost to Sen. Russell Ruderman in the Senate District 2 Democratic primary.

While they have nearly four months before starting their new jobs, neither Richards nor Ruggles appeared to be wasting much time.

Ruggles, 27, said she was compiling a database outlining concerns she heard from constituents during the campaign.

“I’ve talked to over 1,000 people,” said Ruggles, who’s also a UH-Hilo student.

“I have a database of what’s important to everybody.”

Issues she hopes to address on the council include improving roads in the Puna mauka district, both public and private, improving bus service, and tackling Hilo’s landfill problems.

“I think we have an opportunity to build on green-collar jobs,” Ruggles said.

She said she also was involved in the campaign to make the Papaikou Mill Beach trail public.

While that’s not in her district, Ruggles said she hoped to still make that a reality after the council passed a measure to acquire the property a few years ago.

Both her and Richards said they will meet with community groups ahead of their term.

“I have meeting upon meeting upon meeting,” said Richards, a veterinarian and member of the county Agriculture Advisory Commission.

“We did that all through the campaign,” he said.

“Now I’m elected, I’m going to go back and listen again and make sure we have a good understanding of what their concerns are.”

Richards, 57, said he planned to stay on the commission in the meantime but will step down before his council term starts.

He said agriculture, homelessness, and energy are among his top priorities.

Richards said he wasn’t thinking of legislation quite yet.

“I don’t believe in introducing a bill and then figure out if it’s going to work,” he said, adding he intends to vet issues thoroughly before drafting legislation.

The five incumbents on the next council will be: Valerie Poindexter, District 1; Aaron Chung, District 2; Maile David, District 6; Dru Kanuha, District 7; and Karen Eoff, District 8.

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The deadline for registering to vote for the general election is Oct. 10. Early walk-in voting begins Oct. 25.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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