Tears, joy, controversy mark new council term

Tears, joy, controversy and even silly hats marked the changing of the guard Monday, as three members of the County Council were replaced by newcomers eager to get on with the people’s work.

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Tears, joy, controversy and even silly hats marked the changing of the guard Monday, as three members of the County Council were replaced by newcomers eager to get on with the people’s work.

The new council unanimously approved Kona Councilman Dru Kanuha chairman, Hamakua Councilwoman Valerie Poindexter vice chairwoman and Stewart Maeda, who has served as clerk for the past two years, the clerk.

Kanuha, at 30, is said to be the youngest chairman of the council. He’s also the first chairman from Kona.

Fellow council members praised their new leader.

Poindexter said Kanuha has a “Hawaiian heart.” She said she’s sure he’ll have the best interest of the people in that heart.

Kanuha stressed cooperation and consensus.

“Aohe hana nui kealu ia,” Kanuha said. “No task is too big when done together by all.”

Mayor Billy Kenoi urged the council to work hard, and work hard to get along. There will be a “plethora of challenges,” he said.

“At the end of the day, we’re gonna disagree, but we don’t need to be disagreeable,” Kenoi said. “Our community deserves our very best and no less, at the end of the day.”

Incoming council members are Maile David, representing South Kona/Ka‘u, Aaron Chung, representing Hilo, and Danny Paleka, representing Puna. Council members serve two-year terms.

David was the deputy county clerk. Chung served eight years on the council before being term-limited 10 years ago. This is the first elected position for Paleka, who owns a bed and breakfast and is auxiliary services manager for Hawaii Community College.

They replace four-term Hilo Councilman J Yoshimoto and four-term South Kona Councilwoman Brenda Ford. Both are term-limited. Also leaving the council is one-term Puna Councilman Zendo Kern, who chose not to run for re-election.

“When we first started, we wanted to change the world,” Yoshimoto noted.

Kern, who left the council after his first term to return to private business, was praised for the work he did during his term. While not saving the world, Kern said incremental steps can be taken.

“It’s the small things that accumulate,” said Kern.

Yoshimoto isn’t moving too far. He’s accepted a position as deputy corporation counsel, where he will report to Corporation Counsel Molly Stebbins, whom he previously oversaw as the council’s own civil attorney.

Ford, known for her outspoken manner and who often served as minority voice on the council, said she was honored to have served so long. But she remained frustrated that some of her initiatives were blocked by fellow council members.

“It’s been a challenge to try to advance the needs of the public,” Ford said. “They say the wheels of government turn slowly, but sometimes I think they turn backward.”

Two returning council members were philosophical about serving.

“Often finding justice is finding what is the least unjust,” Kohala Councilwoman Margaret Wille said.

“You’ll always have a minority group and a majority group, because all nine can’t always agree,” said Hilo Councilman Dennis “Fresh” Onishi.

The few members of the public who testified urged the council to listen to the people.

“When the public engages in government, the public gets more bang for its buck,” said Joyce Folena of Puna, who has been testifying more than 20 years.

Wille, in an attempt to lighten the mood, handed out frivolous animal hats to fellow council members and the mayor.

But the mood turned sour early on, when council members discovered the rules they had just voted on had been changed to allow committee chairmen the power to hold bills from their committee without consent of the bill sponsor. After the difference was questioned by Puna Councilman Greggor Ilagan, the council pulled back the rules and approved them without the change.

Kanuha said he’d submitted the change as an amendment to be voted on by the council, but staff instead incorporated it into the rules package to be approved.

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Wille, who had told fellow council members and the press that the rules were the same as those for the last council, was livid.

“I am very disturbed by this,” Wille said. “It was underhanded how it happened.”

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