Mayoral hopefuls discuss cabinet selection process

Cochran, Victorino appear at forum

Mayoral candidates Elle Cochran (right) and Mike Victorino sit on a panel during the Kula Community Association’s candidate forum Wednesday night at the Kula Community Center. The candidates addressed several topics that included how they would choose department directors. The Maui News / COLLEEN UECHI photo

KULA — Mayoral candidates Elle Cochran and Mike Victorino both outlined how they would search for department directors, noting that whoever wins will be the first mayor to have his or her directors approved by the council.

Cochran and Victorino appeared at a Kula Community Association forum Wednesday night that also featured all 18 council candidates. One of the central questions for the mayoral candidates was how they would pick their directors. In 2016, voters approved a charter amendment that would require directors to be confirmed by the council.

Victorino said he would require three things of directors, deputy directors and staff: “professionalism, knowledge of the particular area they’re going to be working in and customer service.”

“They must be customer oriented,” Victorino said. “We need a government that takes care of you the people.”

Victorino said he planned to have a seven-member committee that would vet all of the applications, which he said he would “welcome from anywhere,” whether that’s within the department or outside Maui County or the state.

“However, I would like to make sure that whoever the directors are going to be, I will be choosing people who want to work for you the people, and they have the professionalism and the knowledge and the business savvy to do a good job,” he said.

“No matter who I chose, or whoever is chosen, the council still has one more shot at working with them, making sure that they will fulfill what the council thinks they need to do,” he said.

Cochran said that she’s “been stating from the very first day of the campaign season” that she supports the hiring of a county manager, who would function as the county’s chief operating officer and oversee the daily operations of the county. The mayor would act as the chief executive officer.

“I know a lot of people in this race have not been in favor, but I have from day one and been very open and vocal about it,” Cochran said.

She said she would accept director applications “from people from all walks of life. But they have to be qualified. They have to be professional.” She also planned to have a hiring committee to vet applicants.

“That will be the process like any other business,” Cochran said. “When you go and apply, you don’t just get your friends and family hired within your businesses and your departments. But what I see lacking right now is open communication. Directors need to be communicating, not just with the council members, but with the community.”

Cochran and Victorino also discussed how they would put the Maui Island Plan into action. Cochran said the county needs to do a better job of keeping the islandwide visitor population to roughly 33 percent of the resident population as stated in the plan. She said she wanted to bring together tourism agencies and hotels “to make sure that we’re not overtaxing our resources.” She pointed to the sunrise reservation system at Haleakala National Park and the park’s recent proposal to create a wristband system to limit visitors to Pools of Oheo.

“We’re becoming loved to death,” Cochran said. “There needs to be some type of management, and it needs to be addressed, and my administration will take a hard look. And I’m not saying, let’s not have visitors. The visitor industry has supported me for 32 years. . . . But you know, we cannot put all our eggs in one basket.”

Victorino said the county needs to shift its attention to all of its open space “so that we can start producing ag for the use of our people, especially food products.” He said he would make sure every district had an executive assistant assigned to it so they could be the “boots on the ground, here in your community, having a room here at the community center where you can come in and discuss challenges you have within your community.”

“This would be my priority, by making sure that you have representation out there and that all directors would be directed by these EAs (executive assistants) to make sure they follow through on the concerns of you, the citizens of Maui County,” Victorino said.

When asked about the differences between them as opponents, Cochran and Victorino both criticized each other’s voting records. Cochran said Victorino was among those who voted to reinstate the Hamakuapoko wells.

“Those wells were poisoned before I got on the council,” she said. “Poisoned, poisoned from the ag use prior. Nothing changed. No clean up happened. Yet this council, Mr. Victorino included, voted to reinstate those wells, which are on the production line today and feeding you folks. Don’t call me in if you start getting sick on this water.”

Cochran also said she doesn’t take money from lobbyists and super PACs (which cannot give money directly to candidates). She said that her donors are “active in environmental protection efforts,” while Victorino’s donors are from Oahu and the Mainland.

“Just the funds alone are quite striking and draws a clear line between who supports who here and who will be beholden to who,” Cochran said.

Victorino responded that he would “take the high road. I don’t get like my opponent, down and dirty.” He said that the Hamakuapoko wells were contaminated, but that the county “had an agreement, a settlement with Dow Chemical Co. to clean it up.”

“They provided all the filters. They provided all the necessary clean up, and our county has put that back on as a backup system,” he said. “And the system is being used, and now you on the Upcountry area are able to get your water meters. It’s still not the end all, but it started the process.”

He also criticized Cochran’s support from the Sustainable Action Fund for the Environment, a super PAC that has funded flyers promoting Ohana Candidates that include Cochran. He said he’s “not afraid to say I have a wide array of donors,” but that he wasn’t beholden to them.

“No one influences Mike Victorino, except my lovely wife, Joycelyn Victorino,” he said. “I don’t need to be influenced by anyone. I will do what is right for the people. When tutu comes into my office, she gets the same respect, if not a little more, than a big corporation.”

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.

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