Council, mayor sworn in

WAILUKU – The Maui County Council on Friday welcomed the new year with new leadership.

Members voted 7-2 to appoint Council Member Mike White to assume the council chairmanship for the 2015-17 term, replacing Council Member Gladys Baisa, who had held the position since 2013. Baisa and Council Member Don Couch opposed the action.

Council Member Don Guzman was voted in as the council’s second-in-command, replacing former Council Vice Chairman Bob Carroll. Council Member Mike Victorino was re-elected as presiding officer pro tempore.

“I’m honored and humbled by the support by the community of Maui having re-elected me to the council, and I’m honored by the support of my colleagues for having voted me as council chair,” White said after he assumed his new seat upon the raised dais in Council Chambers on the eighth floor of the Kalana O Maui building on Friday afternoon.

The former Budget and Finance Committee chairman pledged to lead the council through the new term in line with four of his personal “guiding principles:” to always focus on the positives; to always do what is right; to always be frugal with money; and to always be open and honest in communication.

“We will be straight with you. We will communicate openly with you. We will be positive and helpful. We will be responsible with your money, and most importantly, we will do what is pono,” White said.

But not all members considered White’s ascension to the council chairmanship “pono”; Baisa on Friday described her deposing as “a coup.”

“I’m not happy about how this has transpired,” she said, adding that “leaders of this coup” – Council Members White, Guzman and Riki Hokama – had never complained about her leadership before.

“Strangely enough, the leaders of this coup are members I worked hard to get elected to office in their first campaigns. This is how I’ve been repaid,” Baisa said.

Baisa is slated to preside over the Water Resources Committee in what will be her last council term due to term limits. She told The Maui News in an earlier interview that she has sought the post since she joined the council in 2006 because of water’s importance to her Upcountry residency district.

Despite being “hurt and disappointed,” Baisa remained committed to carrying out her duties as an elected official to the best of her ability in the new term.

“Yes, I’m hurt and disappointed, but I’m a professional, and I will do my job,” Baisa said. “I will work hard with my fellow members to do the only thing that really matters, and that is that we provide the best possible service to our people.”

Carroll voted in support of the new leadership but added that “the council chair needs to make things happen” with aloha.

“We don’t need, ‘My way or the highway,’ and we don’t need bending over and going belly up when things get rough. . . . There’s no such thing as I can’t work with that person,” Carroll said. “The council chair needs to do make it happen, period.”

Last year, White and Mayor Alan Arakawa clashed over a funding issue that led to trash services in several neighborhoods being suspended for more than a month.

Couch touted both Baisa’s and White’s leadership abilities, but expressed concern with the new chairman’s ability to balance his full-time job as Ka’anapali Beach Hotel general manager and the added responsibility of chairing the council, which Couch described as “an 80 hours a week plus job.”

Other council members threw their support behind White’s leadership.

“I’ve seen him be able to work a full-time job and oversee numerous employees under his watch, and I know he’s quite capable and feel quite confident to have him . . . as chair this session,” Council Member Elle Cochran said.

The first council meeting of the year and term continued with little to-do, with Baisa and the new chairman agreeing on several agenda items, including the reappointment of the County Clerk Danny Mateo and council services staff.

The council unanimously voted to establish the following committees and leadership:

* Budget and Finance Committee, Chairman Hokama, Vice Chairman White.

* Committee of the Whole, Chairman Guzman, Vice Chairwoman Stacy Crivello.

* Economic Development, Energy, Agriculture and Recreation Committee, Chairman Guzman and Vice Chairwoman Cochran.

* Housing, Human Services and Transportation Committee, Chairwoman Crivello, Vice Chairwoman Baisa.

* Infrastructure and Environmental Management Committee, Chairwoman Cochran, Vice Chairman Hokama.

* Land Use Committee, Chairman Carroll, Vice Chairman Victorino.

* Planning Committee, Chairman Couch, Vice Chairman Carroll.

* Policy and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee, Chairman Victorino, Vice Chairman Couch.

* Water Resources Committee, Chairwoman Baisa, Vice Chairman Victorino.

Council members recognized that moving forward as a unified body may be challenging at times but pledged to do so with the community’s best interests at heart.

“I give respect to the leadership that we’ve had, and I will give the same respect for the leadership we will have,” Victorino said. “We’re all here for the people of Maui County. We work for the betterment of the people. . . . We are one community.”

Perhaps Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi said it best in his keynote address during the council’s inauguration ceremony earlier that morning.

“The job is easy,” Kenoi said of being a public servant. “Just aloha everybody, every day, all the time.”

Addressing attendees in his signature laid-back pidgin drawl, Kenoi touted the importance of “shaka, smile and aloha” in a 10-minute speech that had the usually orderly Council Chambers doubling over with laughter, resonating with applause and heads nodding in agreement.

“Regardless of our ideology and philosophy, at the end of the day, we all live in the same island community, which means our kids play on the same fields in soccer, we go shop in all the same stores, a lot of us attend the same churches. And I’m comfortable if the store small and you no like talk to that person you gotta change aisles all the time,” he said with a laugh.

“But if we just aloha each other, even if we disagree on something, later on, we can all agree on something else,” he said. “Sooner or later, we all gotta talk story. We all gotta work together.”

Carmen Hulu Lindsey and daughter Napua Greig provided music and hula during the inauguration ceremony. Kumu Kimokeo Kapahulehua performed the oli and pule. The Maui Fire Department presented the colors and the national anthem. Second Circuit Court Judge Richard Bissen Jr. administered the oath of office, and Tony Takitani served as master of ceremony.

* Eileen Chao can be reached at echao@mauinews.com.