The Hawaii County Fire Commission Wednesday set aside its March 10 selection of the Big Island’s next fire chief, opting to redo the vote in open session after questions were raised about how the vote was initially cast.
The Fire Commission last month selected Battalion Chief Kazuo Todd as the new fire chief to replace Darren Rosario, ratifying in open session a vote made behind closed doors. Rosario retired Nov. 1, when Deputy Fire Chief Robert Perreira, who also applied for the position, became acting chief.
Following the March 10 vote, questions were raised about the commission’s ratification of the vote made in executive session, prompting review by Hawaii County Corporation Counsel Elizabeth Strance. The vote was re-agendized for Wednesday’s meeting.
Following a lengthy executive session, during which Strance and Deputy Corporation Counsels J. Yoshimoto and Renee Schoen addressed the commission, the chief selection vote was made in open session with commissioners submitting handwritten ballots.
Commissioners Shon Magsalin, Wesley Mattos, Corey Luke, Daniel Paleka and Benjamin Agdeppa voted for Todd while commissioners Gregory Henkel and Kyle Keamo voted for acting fire chief Robert Perreira. Gene Nakashima was the lone vote for Battalion Chief William Bergin.
With the minimum five votes necessary garnered, the vote was ratified in open session and Todd was again selected to be fire chief, effective immediately.
Yoshimoto and Schoen referred comment on why the March 10 vote was set aside to Strance, who left prior to the end of executive session to attend the County Council Finance Committee for budget review. Strance, in an emailed response, said she is not able to discuss matters held in executive session.
“They are confidential and the attorney-client privilege prevents our providing any details,” Strance said.
Todd, a 40-year-old Hilo resident, is the son of former County Councilwoman and longtime county official Bobby Jean Leithead Todd and brother to state Rep. Chris Todd, a Hilo Democrat.
He has been with the department for 16 years, most recently working as a battalion chief in auxiliary services after managing the West Hawaii Fire Prevention Bureau. Prior to that he was a fire inspector for two years after serving as a firefighter/EMT for six years.
“I really want to have a department that’s focused on clear, consistent, transparent communication that multi-channeled so we are getting the message out, whether it be within the department or externally of the department, too, our stakeholders, the public, the media and through Facebook so people know what’s going on and why were doing it and also how we stack up against other departments,” Todd said Wednesday following the vote.
Todd also wants to get the Hawaii Fire Department accredited with the Center for Public Safety Excellence and the Commission on Fire Accreditation International.
“We’re funded with public money for the public good and the public deserves the best possible department it can have,” Todd said.
The other finalists were Capt. Garrett Kim and Daniel Manning. The five were among 50 who applied for the position, and the only ones who met minimum qualification requirements.
Perreira had 25 years experience in the department, Bergin 26 years and Kim 20 years. Manning is a candidate from outside the department.
Minimum qualifications for the fire chief, according to the county charter, is five years of training and experience in fire control, including at least three years of experience in a responsible administrative capacity. In addition, county voters approved a charter amendment last year adding, “the fire chief shall have a combination of education and experience substantially equivalent to possession of a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university.”
The fire chief controls an annual budget of $52 million and oversees 470 employees. In fiscal year 2019-20, the department responded to a 26,101 calls for assistance, of which nearly 18,000 were for emergency medical services and 900 were for fires or explosions. The position, a career post subject to oversight by the Fire Commission, paid about $153,096 in 2020.