Council approves communications director

WAILUKU – Maui County Council members approved a council communications director, changes in land-use conditions for a rock-crushing facility in Kihei and funding for two nonprofit affordable housing projects on Tuesday.

In a 7-2 vote, with Council Members Mike White and Riki Hokama voting against the measure, the council brought aboard Maria Katrina “Kit” C. Zulueta to be the council’s communications director. She has been working as Mayor Alan Arakawa’s deputy chief of staff and will begin her new job today.

Council Chairwoman Gladys Baisa, who advocated for the position, ultimately was the one who hired Zulueta out of the 32 applicants.

During the meeting Tuesday in Council Chambers, Council Vice Chairman Bob Carroll read a list of qualifications for Zulueta, who has done work for PBS Hawaii, worked as a speechwriter and written columns for the Fil-Am Courier and has multimedia skills.

“This position is one that we need,” Carroll said in his support of the resolution. “This is one of the things that is critical to keep the transparency (of the council).”

Baisa said Zulueta will help to get the word out about council bills, meetings and inner workings. She added that she often hears from the public about how ill informed they are about council matters.

“This is not about fluff and telling (the public) how wonderful we are,” Baisa added.

Hokama and White did not share Baisa’s view in voting against the measure.

During the council’s recent budget committee deliberations, White, who is chairman of the committee, said that Council Services already had talented staff that could do the communications work. He added that the council must lead by example and not expand new positions without a clear need.

He had preferred hiring a communications contractor first to help the council understand its needs before a permanent position was established.

In other matters, the council approved on second and final reading a conditional boundary amendment and conditional zoning to Pacific Rim Land Inc. for a rock-crushing facility at 500 E. Welakahao Road in Kihei. The council also amended the Kihei-Makena Community Plan and land-use map from agriculture to heavy industrial for the facility.

Also on second and final reading, the council approved using $400,000 from the Affordable Housing Fund for the Hale Lokelani Ohana Project to assist with the acquisition of a residential building for special needs housing for tenants earning 80 percent or below the area median income.

By a 5-3 vote, council members also approved on second and final reading $500,000 from the Affordable Housing Fund to go to the Ka Hale A Ke Ola Homeless Resource Centers for its Hale Makana O Waiale Rental Rehabilitation Project, which would renovate the 200-unit affordable multifamily apartment complex.

Council Member Mike Victorino abstained from voting because he is a board member of Ka Hale A Ke Ola.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at