Kim Cabinet complete

HILO — Less than a week before he takes office, Mayor-elect Harry Kim put the finishing touches on his Cabinet, pulling new blood into the departments of Planning and Environmental Management and naming an aide to Gov. David Ige as his right-hand man.


HILO — Less than a week before he takes office, Mayor-elect Harry Kim put the finishing touches on his Cabinet, pulling new blood into the departments of Planning and Environmental Management and naming an aide to Gov. David Ige as his right-hand man.

Kim is scheduled to be inaugurated noon Monday.

“I really believe these are really good people,” Kim said Tuesday. “We’re all here just to do the job within the laws, and to regain the public’s trust in their government.”

Wil Okabe, named managing director, has most recently served as Ige’s East Hawaii liaison, and before that was president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association. He’s previously served the county as a volunteer chairman of both the Police and Fire Commission.

Kim said Okabe will be particularly helpful in county-state relationships. Okabe agreed.

“Hopefully, I can bring that experience to this administration so the people of Hawaii County can benefit,” Okabe said. “I understand the process of how the state works.”

Okabe is more of an acquaintance than a friend, Kim said, adding Okabe served as an assistant coach when Kim coached the Waiakea High School football team. Okabe also coached at Hilo High School and was a Pahoa High School teacher and football coach.

One newcomer to county government is Bill Kucharski of Waikoloa, appointed to head the Department of Environmental Management.

Kucharski holds master’s degrees in civil and chemical engineering from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor and has more than 40 years public service experience, including secretary of the Department of Environmental Quality for the state of Louisiana and program director for the Environmental Claims process for Kuwait against Iraq for damages from the 1989 invasion, according to his resume.

“I think I hit a home run with this guy,” Kim said. “His background is very impressive.”

Although he’s lived on the Big Island only six years and in Hawaii for only 10, Kucharski told West Hawaii Today on Tuesday he’s ready to hit the ground running. He plans to do lot of listening, he said, and he understands the department is facing a lot of challenges right off the bat. No one wants garbage facilities near them, but it’s up to government to make those hard decisions, he said.

“I think people need to be assured their voices will be heard. … There are problems on this island that need to be addressed,” Kucharski said. “This impacts people. .. It’s personal. It’s next to their homes. … But in the best interest of the island, it always means it’s going to be near someone.”

For director of the Planning Department, Kim has chosen Michael Yee, currently senior director of Housing Operations for the Seattle YWCA. Yee’s grandparents and father moved to Oahu in the 1930s, and his wife is a “Hilo girl,” but Yee is new to the Big Island.

Kim has promoted longtime county Planning Program Manager Daryn Arai to deputy director to help ease Yee’s transition.

Yee’s appointment signals a greater focus on Community Development Plans in the planning process, a process current CDP committees have sometimes complained they’ve been left out of.

“I have a history of trying to balance economic issues and development with community issues,” Yee said. “Some of my value will be work at the community level.”

Previously, Kim announced appointment of the rest of his Cabinet. The nominees all face confirmation by the County Council.

Charmaine Kamaka, who served as Parks and Recreation director under former Mayor Lorraine Inouye, is returning to that position. Kamaka most recently served as Health and Safety Division personnel program specialist in the county Department of Human Resources before retiring after 20 years in county government.

Kim selected Jules Ung to head the Department of Information Technology. A former IT and events manager at Research Corporation of the University of Hawaii, Ung has been working as an independent contractor since February, including on projects such as the EnVision Maunakea website, which seeks to nurture civil conversations in the community on the future of the mountain.

Kim named former Environmental Management Director Frank DeMarco to head the Department of Public Works, and Diane Ley, who previously was director of Research and Development, back to that position.

Neil Gyotoku was appointed head of Housing and Community Development, Joe Kamelamela as Corporation Counsel and Collins Tomei as Finance director. Deanna Sako, the county’s current Finance director, will serve as deputy director.

Barbara Kossow is returning to her former position as deputy managing director in the West Hawaii office.

Roy Takemoto was named an executive assistant, a position he held in Kim’s previous administration. Donna Urban-Higuchi is a second executive assistant.

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