Aranguiz leaving Mass Transit after only 8 months on the job

  • Transit Administrator Maria “Sole” Aranguiz at her new office in the Hilo baseyard in March. (NANCY COOK LAUER/West Hawaii Today)

HILO — The disarray at the county Mass Transit Agency continues with the resignation of Administrator Maria “Sole” Aranguiz.

Aranguiz is leaving Mass Transit on Oct. 26 after only eight months on the job. The civil service position pays $70,644 to $130,152 annually.

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One of five finalists in a competitive process that began shortly after Mayor Harry Kim took office in late 2016, Aranguiz was formerly chief of systems planning and forecasting for the California Department of Transportation before taking the Hawaii County job. She said she’s going back to California to return to her old position.

Kim on Thursday praised Aranguiz’s can-do attitude in the face of resistance from some workers and county officials.

“She did different things to make do with what she had,” Kim said. “We lost a winner.”

A no-nonsense administrator, Aranguiz took over a department plagued with broken-down buses, inconsistent bus arrivals and a critical audit that found mismanaged cash. Those problems already existed when she took over.

Cash-handling was so lax, the legislative auditor couldn’t tell if any money was missing, much less how much. The theft of a bus not once, but twice by the same suspect, didn’t help raise the agency’s reputation.

Kim said Aranguiz is leaving the department in a better place, even from her short tenure. He said he’s asked the Human Resources Department to take another look at the other finalists. If they’re not a good fit or aren’t interested, the department will solicit applications, a process that will add much more time to filling the position.

“I told them, ‘Find me another winner,’” Kim said.

Aranguiz said the agency is making progress, but it often wasn’t acknowledged by officials. She praised the assistance of the mayor’s office and other departments.

“This agency has gone through critical times. We are moving as fast as we can, but there are only so many things we can do,” Aranguiz said. “We need champions, we need more support. … We’re doing our very best.”

Aranguiz took over from Tiffany Kai, who was moved to paratransit coordinator. Kim said Kai is not interested in the position.

Kim previously brought in retired Marine Curtis Sharp at $9,584 per month to trouble-shoot and manage the agency until Aranguiz was hired. Sharp was disqualified from running for the permanent position, as he didn’t have the required public transit experience.

Aranguiz had stated her first priority was to get buses back on the road and improve customer service.

Employees have grumbled to the newspaper about Aranguiz’s management style, but none wanted their names used.

One of her first actions was to open a small office at the county building in Hilo, where two employees address disabled riders’ concerns, answer questions and sell bus tickets and coupons. The goal was to bring the transit system to the people.

But Aranguiz’s outspoken manner cost her support on the County Council, especially that of Kohala Councilman Tim Richards, who repeatedly tried to gut her budget and scolded her for not initially embracing the $500,000 transit master plan and not being more responsive to his district.

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“If you’re going to be the director, you’ve got to take ownership of the plan, and I don’t hear you owning the plan,” Richards told her in a May council meeting. “It’s not that we don’t need a bus, we do. But we’ve got to have confidence in the leadership that we’re actually going to get what we are expecting.”

The Mass Transit Agency last year relied on about $4.6 million in general fund revenues, which come from property taxes. The remainder of its $15.7 million budget comes from federal grants and the highway fund, which is supported by fuel taxes and license and permit fees. The current budget adds general excise taxes to the mix, replacing the general fund money.

  1. Buds4All October 5, 2018 4:30 am

    So here we have it, our Island clearly does not have the talent pool to do this job and when we do get some one from the mainland the associates stone wall them because they were making the actually work. Not to mention they are reporting to an outsider.


    1. Rusty Da Clown October 5, 2018 7:33 am

      Lots of people on this island manage fleets and oversee drivers. Think of all the trucking and transportation companies. They must all know something about working for Harry Kim that the outside applicants don’t.


      1. Buds4All October 5, 2018 11:20 am

        Good Point Rusty I left that out…thanks for picking up my slack!


    2. Pest Outwest October 5, 2018 2:45 pm

      All this on an island, with basically three roads, and about the same population of Knoxville. What an embarrassment.


  2. Big Mac October 5, 2018 5:28 am

    It must be really bad if she only lasted 8 months. I love Kim’s comment that the former coordinator Kai doesn’t want the position. Like she should actually be considered for the position when she, amongst others, ran the department into the ground in the first place.


    1. Scooby October 5, 2018 5:42 am

      How many of Harry Kim’s appointed staff left after a year or less…too many to count or remember. She is just another one who was touted as the savior or our Mass mess Transit. In 8 months you can’t even set up your office let alone accomplish anything. Now this article is saying another 18 months before any new busses come in? That’s Kim’ entire four year term and nothing to show for it.


  3. bigislandkane October 5, 2018 5:44 am

    Huge loss. I felt she was the best thing our Mass Transit Department had ever seen. I guess the old ways just put too much pressure on her. Auwe on them!! We wish her the very best…she is a good one!!


    1. Elizabeth Krsnapriya Bush October 5, 2018 10:52 am

      Bully culture; good professional make ill willed do nothings look bad.


  4. Rusty Da Clown October 5, 2018 7:31 am

    Maybe third director will be the charm for Harry Kim’s failing mass transit department. His hot-shot Marine who was gonna turn the place around, turned around and left. Now this sister is out. Think she’ll catch the bus to the airport?


  5. Colin12345 October 5, 2018 8:25 am

    The Mass Transit Master Plan does not fit the County’s budget. It overshoots, over-promises versus the tax dollars it costs. West Hawaii property owners and their renters, through rent levels, already pay for this mainly East Hawaii service anyway. Problem no. 2 is a mindset that for a widespread rural service area, with 100 mile runs, the County is gleefully accepting old, mix-and-match, hand-me-down buses from other places to run a transit system that demands RELIABILITY FIRST! We’re told the old buses are in great shape and in running order. Ha! Now think: why do you suppose the other counties are happy to get rid of them at that age? The first problem was and is the fault of the Council for buying the “dream” without facing and budgeting for the costs of what’s actually an operating plan. The second problem is the responsibility of the Council to refuse accepting old machines to run an islandwide system that demands very high reliability with minimal back-up machines available (because of distance and relatively low population counts and low fares). And it is the responsibility of the Administration to stop thinking old machines are going to be a quick fix that will work. It’s like putting a band-aid on a wet finger. No stick.


    1. Elizabeth Krsnapriya Bush October 5, 2018 10:51 am

      No doubt bullied out.


  6. Michael Drutar October 5, 2018 8:42 am

    If every admin leaves or does not want the job, what does that tell you? That the staff is the problem.


  7. briala October 5, 2018 10:40 am

    “When a management with a reputation for brilliance tackles a business with a reputation for bad economics, it is the reputation of the business that remains intact.” — Warren Buffett


  8. Elizabeth Krsnapriya Bush October 5, 2018 10:49 am

    Typical good ‘ol boy system bullies out a smart and competent professional again. This is why Hawaii is hemorrhaging medical and nursing experts too.


    1. Buds4All October 5, 2018 11:22 am

      Amen Bush!!!!


  9. Buds4All October 5, 2018 11:24 am

    Maybe the guy that stole the two busses wants the job? He seemed to be on time.


  10. Jose Martinez October 5, 2018 4:46 pm

    what a smart woman. very dim harry kim thinks he know what is best for us,in his out dated way of thinking.but he can not even keep a honest hard worker here..well,i guess he will make more money…again…looking for a replacement,who just say’s ..yes…yes…harry,you always know what is best…..


  11. Graystash October 6, 2018 1:05 am

    Was this a surprise to anyone ?? The incompetence that is the transportation system here just boggles the mind !! After several fully qualified administrators have been run out of town one would think to look at the people left in the system as being the root of the problem ?? ( and it is) I have to wonder if the new bus yard is any where complete and operational yet ??


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