Mark Van Pernis endured a second round of grilling Wednesday before being confirmed to the Leeward Planning Commission by a 6-3 vote.
The issue for the dissenting County Council members — Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy, Kohala Councilman Tim Richards and Puna Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz — was a series of disciplinary actions including a 2003 complaint with the state Office of Disciplinary Council that resulted in the suspension of his license to practice law for three months.
Two council members questioned whether Van Pernis had the temperament to serve on the commission, while Lee Loy said she was voting no to send a message to the administration that it needs to better vet candidates. She asked for a “bright line” for how far back the administration goes in researching candidates’ backgrounds.
Van Pernis had received a negative 2-5 vote Jan. 7 in the Planning Committee, after Lee Loy found out about the law license suspension and three decades-old Bar admonishments that weren’t disclosed by the administration. It’s rare but not unprecedented for the council to reject a mayoral appointee.
“It would have saved everybody a lot of heartburn if we understood the process a lot better,” Lee Loy said. “Someone who wants to serve the community who might have an unfavorable blemish on their record is afraid to apply because there is no bright line.”
Kim’s Executive Assistant Rose Bautista, who’s in charge of filling county boards and commissions, said there aren’t written guidelines for vetting candidates. The administration generally goes back five years or so, she said.
“It wasn’t something I caught, but I knew enough or heard enough about Mr. Van Pernis to know he was respected in the community,” Bautista said.
Her job is to match candidates with the specific requirements of each board or commission. Van Pernis, with his experience in real estate law and contracts, is a good fit for the commission, she said.
It wasn’t a good enough match for Richards, who said there was “some controversy swirling” around Van Pernis’ nomination.
“People I admire and respect, and then they are not supportive of you,” Richards said. “I’m trying to balance. … I am struggling to identify the bigger picture in this. … You are very much a community-minded person, but our job as council members is to make the best decision we can.”
South Kona/Ka‘u Councilwoman Maile David said she’s known Van Pernis for 40 years, and she’s satisfied he’ll do a good job on the commission. She noted that the application asks only that candidates disclose if they’ve violated the law.
“I understand the concerns that are being raised,” David said. “I put a lot of weight in my own reasons. I support you because of your position in the Kona community.”
David and Hilo Councilman Aaron Chung said it’s customary to give deference to the council member whose district the candidate will represent. In this case, it’s North Kona Councilwoman Karen Eoff, who supported the nomination.
Kona Councilwoman Rebecca Villegas also supported Van Pernis. She took issue with anonymous complaints about him.
“I find it challenging to appreciate communications that seem to say to somebody, anybody, under any circumstances, ‘I’ve heard bad things about you, but I won’t tell you who they were or what they said,’” Villegas said.
Van Pernis said, as a practicing attorney who’s now “mostly retired,” he’s been a member of the Hawaii State Bar Association and the West Hawaii Bar for more than 40 years. He noted he served almost three years on the Kailua Village Design Commission. He also served on the state of Hawaii Redistricting Committee.
“Being now mostly retired and with no conflicts of interest, I have the time and willingness to serve and do a good job,” Van Pernis said. “Look at the recommendations from those who have known me for long time. … I want to give back to the community. I want to volunteer and work hard.”