This post is really overdue, as former Managing Director and Acting for the City and County of Honolulu, Kirk Caldwell of Ashford and Wriston LLP, did put on a great panel for the Leadership Institute fellows. I just have been swamped with work (lots of people want to start their dream business!).
Anyway, I’ve got a five part series on the Leadership Institute, which this one will start off. This came about because the seminar I had with Corporate Hawaii, sparked off a really interesting discussion that I think I would like to continue, for at least my part, on my blog and in the social media community.

So this is what it will look like:

  1. Part I: Meet the People Write-up, Part I – Homelessness
  2. Part II Meet the People Write-up, Part II – Civility in Government
  3. Part III: Corporate Hawaii Write-Up
  4. Part IV: Corporate Hawaii – Where are the Leaders?
  5. Part V: Managing Diverse Networks Write-Up

As usual I will report on what was discussed at the Leadership Institute seminars and what insights or wisdom that the panelists imparted to the fellows. So with that in mind let’s get to “We the People” write-up.

We the People Write-Up – Homelessness

Kirk Caldwell broke the session into two panels for two different subject matters. The morning session was about leadership and Homelessness in the State, which of course as we got ready for APEC was of concern. He invited Mark Alexander (the State’s Homelessness coordinator), Representative Marcus Oshiro (Chair of the House Finance Committee), and Utu Langsi (Executive Director for H-5).

The afternoon session was about Civility in Government and consisted of panelists, Chief Justice Recktenwald, Senator Sam Slom, and Andrew Aoki former Deputy Chief of Staff to Governor Abercrombie (at the time of this session he had not resigned). Part II will follow-up on this topic.


Kirk started off the conversation by discussing that a democratic government needs to have a balanced population and how this factors into the situation of the “haves” and “have-nots.”

Marcus, as an attorney, as he still volunteers with Legal Aid Society of Hawaii and gives pro bono hours, felt that prosecutors, as attorneys of the government occupy a unique role. He stated that a, “prosecutor’s job is to pursuit justice.” In that vein, they need to use their skill set to be a sort of politician that does social good for the body politic.

In the context of homelessness, that I agree that is partly true, as prosecutors need represent the government, which has a responsibility to both those with homes and without. However, I think once again leadership still depends on the person and how seriously they take the responsibilities that come with their job.

Father Mark Alexander definitely took the approach that leadership needs to take care of the least fortunate, which is probably why he took the position with Abercrombie administration. Here are some of the more interesting quotes he imparted:

  • “We have to a have vision where we want to go.”
  • “Leadership has to tell the story.”
  • “Homelessness is not about metrics, numbers, at the end of the day, but about the brothers and sisters in need.”

I really find that last one kind of poignant. However, I think Mark Alexander, despite the poignancy, displayed a remarkably pragmatic understanding that programs we develop for homelessness cannot be “too comfortable.” For example, some programs would express success in the terms of how much food was served. However, this begged the question is that success? Isn’t the goal to help protect people from falling through the cracks, BUT to help boost them back up so they do not remain homeless. So as a leader in this area you would have to provide help, but motivate people or give them the tools to move forward with their lives.

I think that we all know in leadership positions that if a person gets too comfortable sometimes they lack the motivation to take the next step. Pushing people isn’t a way to be mean, but insures that people develop to their full potential. However, out of all the three panelists I think that Utu Langsi had the most telling example of how leadership affects people on hard times. In his former life he was a criminal and was homeless. It was only through judicial grace and “luck” (I will return to the concept of luck when I get to “Managing Diverse Networks”) that he finds himself now helping other homeless people with his non-profit.

I think he definitely showed that part of the equation of helping people is you have to meet them half way sometimes. To lead does mean communicating and understanding them and offering them help, but the person wants to make a change. He definitely emphasized the need to break cyclic problems by helping and educating younger generations.

Budgeting Care

The panel rounded out with Marcus Oshiro, Chair of Finance, giving some insight into the thought process our legislators go through when dealing with budgetary process. Here are his questions:

  1. How far can we cut government programs and services?
  2. What programs and services are we willing to live without?
  3. Are we willing to pay more for the programs and services we want to keep?
  4. What doe we want Hawaii to look like when the recession ends?

This was against the backdrop of some figures he gave us. These are by no means accurate on my part, as I was rushing to take notes while interacting with the panelists. So take them with a grain of salt.  However, the state’s revenue is comprised of half from the GET tax, a third from personal income tax, and about 2% is derived from corporate, tobacco, and other specialty taxes. Meanwhile, health, human services, and education make up the majority of spending, with higher and education and public safety the next major components of the budget.

So it was a very informative in terms of perspective of those in government and public services when they approach the homelessness issue. Next time I will cover the remainder of “We the People” and take the insights on Civility in Government.

Here are few links if you want more information on homelessness in Hawaii:

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