Council members vote to oust Van Pernis

County Council members on Tuesday voted narrowly in favor of removing a commissioner from the Leeward Planning Commission.

Commissioner Mark Van Pernis has been a contentious member of the commission since his appointment in early 2020. Over the last year, Van Pernis has been repeatedly accused of disrespectful conduct during meetings and a possible ethics violation, which eventually led Mayor Mitch Roth to seek Van Pernis’ removal from the commission in April.

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In a letter sent to the County Council in May, Roth said Van Pernis “behaves as if he is opposing counsel performing cross-examination, and even badgers applicants that do not answer his questions to his liking.”

But, because of the unprecedented nature of the proposed ouster, no action has been taken until the Aug. 3 meeting of the County Council Planning Committee. Council members at previous Planning Committee meetings repeatedly voted to postpone the matter.

However, Planning Committee chair Ashley Kierkiewicz said Tuesday that the committee owed decisive action to the public, and called for a final vote on whether to remove Van Pernis from the commission.

The decision was still contentious. Volcano and Pahala Councilwoman Maile David was adamant that the Leeward Planning Commission has its own means of removing troublesome members, which does not require the council or mayor to involve themselves.

“In my reading and understanding … a body can discipline its own members, including expulsion, if need be, and the commission can do that on its own,” David said. “…But I don’t think reaching out to us and making that recommendation is something I can totally support.

“I don’t believe that we are the only option,” David concluded.

However, Roth called into the meeting to repeat his criticism of Van Pernis and urged for his removal.

“This is not about politics, this is about the way we treat people in government,” Roth said. “Looking at what has happened, and listening to the testimony of the commissioners themselves, giving Mr. Van Pernis the benefit of the doubt has time and time again showed that this is not how we should be treating people.”

Roth added Van Pernis’ behavior has continued to be “unbecoming” of a commissioner. At a commission meeting earlier this year, Van Pernis reportedly made comments that drove a testifier to tears, leading that testifier to file a complaint against him with the county Board of Ethics.

In June, the Board of Ethics postponed action on that complaint, although it did find Van Pernis innocent of any malfeasance on a separate, unrelated ethics complaint.

Ultimately, the Planning Committee voted 5-3 in favor of Van Pernis’ removal, with David, Kona Councilwoman Rebecca Villegas and Kona and Waikoloa Councilman Holeka Goro Inaba voting against his removal. Puna Councilman Matt Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder was absent from the meeting.

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The matter now goes before the full council.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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