HILO — Aaron Chung, a longtime councilman from Hilo, will be the new County Council chairman under an organization plan filed Monday.
Chung, an attorney, said he was asked to serve by a majority of current council members and council members-elect over the past weeks. The process was conducted through telephone conversations, as is allowed by state Sunshine Law for organization of an upcoming council term prior to the new council’s swearing in.
“It’s not something I sought,” said Chung, who this past term declined to as much as chair a committee. “I’m old hat; I’ve been around a long time. It’s not something I need for my ego.”
Council members will be sworn in at noon Monday at the Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium in Hilo. Then the council will meet for the first time at 3 p.m. in Hilo council chambers to vote on the organizational resolutions.
Chung said he agreed to take the helm to help the council, which has three incoming freshmen, to form a solid plan for the next two years. He anticipates difficult years with continuing recovery from the Kilauea eruption coupled with climate change that’s likely to bring rising sea levels and increased hurricane activity.
“We’re trying to use everyone’s skill sets to make for a better group,” Chung said.
Outgoing Council Chairwoman Valerie Poindexter, of Hamakua, said she likes the way the new members — Kona Councilwoman-elect Rebecca Villegas, Puna Councilwoman-elect Ashley Kierkiewicz and Puna Councilman-elect Matt Kanealii-Kleinfelder — are paired as committee chairmen or vice chairmen with seasoned council members.
“I think we’re going in a strong direction,” Poindexter said. “We’re coming in with a good recovery plan and looking at what’s ahead.”
Chung had previously served eight years from 1996 to 2004 and was elected again in 2014 and was just re-elected to his third two-year term. North Kona Councilwoman Karen Eoff, the current vice chairwoman, will continue that role.
A key committee change is renaming the Environmental Management Committee the Environmental Resiliency and Management Committee to put the focus on preparing for climate change. The Agriculture, Water and Energy Sustainability Committee will be folded into that committee.
Mass Transit has been split from Public Safety and will now join a committee with Public Works. Both Public Safety and Parks and Recreation will be freestanding committees.
“These assignments are reflective of the diverse skills, talents and priorities of our island, and strives to balance both our rural and urban communities and their unique needs,” Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy said in a press release announcing the council’s new organization. “They will provide greater context for effective communication and decision-making, with the ultimate goal of a better county government to serve our island community.”
The council will name Deputy County Clerk Jon Henricks as the new county clerk, replacing Stewart Maeda, who is at the end of his four-year term. Henricks has picked Aaron Brown, currently the business manager for the Department of Public Works, as deputy county clerk.
Chung pledged to lead a no-nonsense and open council. There’s a lot of work to do, he said, and every council member has an equal voice.
“This is still a council of nine. This is not old-time politics where the council chair can control the course of action or dictate how the council votes,” Chung said. “We’ve got to keep our eye on the ball and not get distracted.”
Proposed council leadership for the 2018-20 term
Council Chairman Aaron Chung; Vice Chairwoman Karen Eoff
Finance Committee Chairwoman Maile David; Vice Chairman Tim Richards
Planning Committee Chairwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz; Vice Chairwoman Sue Lee Loy
Parks and Recreation Committee Chairwoman Valerie Poindexter; Vice Chairwoman Rebecca Villegas
Public Works and Mass Transit Committee Chairwoman Sue Lee Loy; Vice Chairman Matt Kanealii-Kleinfelder
Environmental Resiliency and Management Committee Chairman Tim Richards; Vice Chairman Matt Kanealii-Kleinfelder
Public Safety Committee Chairwoman Rebecca Villegas; Vice Chairwoman Karen Eoff
Governmental Relations and Economic Development Committee Chairwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz; Vice Chairwoman Sue Lee Loy
Poindexter and Kierkiewicz were named delegate and alternate, respectively, to the Executive Committee of the Hawaii State Association of Counties until June 30. After that time, Kierkiewicz will become the delegate and Villegas will be the alternate.