Just four months into his four-year term, Mayor Mitch Roth has lost his first top official, with Merrick Nishimoto leaving as deputy director of the Department of Public Works.
Nishimoto left employment with the county March 23, according to the Department of Human Resources.
“If you look at every administration, people change,” Deputy Managing Director Bobby Command said Monday. “I’ve known him for a very long time — he’s from Kona. I have the utmost respect for him and we were sad that he’s no longer with the county.”
Command attributed Nishimoto’s departure to a difference in management style between the deputy and the director. Nishimoto did not respond to a voicemail by press time Monday.
Nishimoto’s departure leaves a void in Public Works for West Hawaii, where officials have appreciated a Kona resident serving in the often-maligned department.
Public Works Director Ikaika Rodenhurst is from Puna. He was confirmed by a slim 5-4 County Council majority, with most West Hawaii council members voting against his confirmation.
“It’s no secret that I believe the new director did not have the qualifications required in our charter for appointment to that position. Without Merrick there, I am even more worried about the well-being of our DPW Department and its staff,” said Kona Councilwoman Rebecca Villegas. “Merrick has decades of experience and a legacy of serving our county with honor, integrity, humility and servant leadership.”
Deputy directors do not face council confirmation.
“Out of respect and consideration for Merrick, I can’t discuss this personnel matter,” Rodenhurst said Monday.
Nishimoto’s departure also leaves the department short critical management during a crucial period, as the administration pushes against a self-imposed July 26 deadline to implement a long-delayed $2.5 million Energov computer system to facilitate permits in Public Works and Planning.
Command said Rodenhurst is taking the lead in the search for a new deputy.
“We’re looking islandwide,” Command said.
Nishimoto had also previously served as deputy director in the department, a position that pays about $126,000 annually, under former Mayor Harry Kim, where Nishimoto was responsible for DPW’s lava emergency response and recovery efforts during the 2018 eruption. He then served as project manager for Hualalai Investments LLC before coming back to the county.