Nine appointees to Mayor Mitch Roth’s Cabinet are scheduled to appear Tuesday before County Council committees, the first step in the approval process before council confirmation.
The public will be able to watch the hearings on the County Council website. Testifiers can testify via Zoom by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 961-8255 by noon Monday. Written testimony can be sent to email@example.com.
Roth said he’s been impressed with how the new department heads quickly settled into their positions, and how well they’re working together.
“There’s a wealth of experience there. I’m happy with the whole group,” Roth said Wednesday. “We’re at a time when we’re facing economic catastrophe. … We are in a time in history when we’re forced to make changes. You don’t make changes by doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results.”
The county charter allows appointees to take their positions before they’re confirmed and gives the council 60 days to confirm them. If the council doesn’t act within that time frame, the appointee is automatically confirmed under the charter.
“I have faith the council is going to do their job. It’s not on personalities; that’s not what their jobs are,” Roth said. “If they follow the rules, they will have no problem confirming everyone.”
Probably the most controversial nominee is former Puna Councilman Zendo Kern, a former chairman of the Windward Planning Commission, as director of the Planning Department, judging from public comments on social media and letters in opposition sent to West Hawaii Today.
Opponents worry that Kern’s recent work as a planning consultant representing developers will cause conflicts of interest and many see him as too pro-development at the expense of quality of life issues. Others questioned contributions Kern made to Roth’s mayoral campaign. No letters came in to the newspaper supporting his nomination.
Kailua-Kona residents like Kate Kealani H. Winter say Kern’s representation of developers of Royal Kona Village is a big problem for them.
“Kern is an advocate and paid spokesperson for the landowners and developers,” Winter said in a letter to the editor. “He may have served Puna well in his political career, but he does not have the education and skills for an island-wide kuleana.”
Kern is scheduled to appear before the Planning Committee at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday. He said Thursday he won’t be able to attend, as he’s on a previously scheduled family vacation on the mainland. But he defended his ability to be unbiased.
“As many people know from my time on the council, I’m about balance and common-sense thinking. I plan to bring that same approach to my tenure as director,” Kern said. “Being born and raised on the Big Island coupled with over two decades of private and public experience primarily in land use and county government provide me with a unique skill set to serve our community.”
Roth said he supports Kern’s perspective. Kern is already tackling the knotty problems in the Planning Department such as how to fine-tune the short-term vacation rental law to make it easier to follow and to add teeth for those who do not, Roth said.
“Zendo has a different way of looking at things; he’s seen both sides of the issues. He has a bigger perspective,” Roth said. “That’s what we need right now — people that have a different perspective.”
Kern doesn’t think conflicts of interest will be a problem, as he can hand conflicting cases over to the deputy. In addition, he said, applications that contain entitlements such as rezoning will be decided by the County Council or one of the planning commissions, not at the department level.
“As a consultant my job was to represent my clients, no different than say, an attorney, as Planning director I will be representing our county to the best of my ability,” Kern said.
Other appointees up for confirmation Tuesday:
Maurice “Moe” Messina was named director of Parks and Recreation. Most recently chief of staff for former Mayor Harry Kim, he started his career with the county in the prosecutor’s office and later served for two years as deputy director of Parks and Recreation. His confirmation is scheduled for 9 a.m. Tuesday with the Committee on Parks and Recreation and Public Safety.
Steven Rodenhurst faces confirmation as the Public Works director when the Committee on Public Works and Mass Transit meets at 9:45 a.m. Rodenhurst, a licensed engineer who works for Waipahu-based Bowers + Kubota, has experience with state and county road construction. He ran unsuccessfully against Puna Councilman Matt Kanealii-Kleinfelder, garnering $43,692 in campaign contributions to Kanealii-Kleinfelder’s $26,821, with most of Rodenhurst’s money coming in $1,000-$2,000 chunks from businesses and construction unions.
Deanna Sako, a top Finance Department official under two other mayors before Roth, will likely be easily confirmed as Finance director for Roth, when the council Committee on Finance meets at 1 p.m.
2:30 p.m. Ramzi Mansour Environmental Management Director Committee on Regenerative Agriculture, Water, Energy &Environmental Management.
Mansour, currently division chief of Wastewater Treatment and Disposal for the City and County of Honolulu, appeared before both the Environmental Management Commission and the County Council in December, demonstrating a friendly but outspoken manner that has already won him support from some council members and members of the public. At the Dec. 23 council meeting, Mansour persuaded the council to postpone a rewrite of environmental management rules until he could recommend changes. His comments that the county shouldn’t shut off water service to customers overdue on their sewer bills have also won support from constituents.
The Committee on Governmental Operations, Relations and Economic Development, at 3:30 p.m., will vet Elizabeth Strance for Corporation Counsel, Lee Lord, as managing director, Douglass Adams as director for Research and Development and Scott Uehara as director of Information Technology.
Strance is a former 3rd Circuit Court judge. As corporation counsel, she’ll be the top civil attorney representing both the mayor and County Council. Lord was the longtime business manager in the Prosecutor’s Office. Uehara had been information systems analyst for the Hawaii Police Department since 2012.
Doug Adams, a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army and current vice-chairman and Director of W.H. Shipman, Ltd., is also an attorney licensed in Hawaii and serves in various leadership capacities for public and nonprofit service organizations. He most recently headed the county Charter Commission and prior to that, served on the county Board of Ethics.