Council listens to 75 testifiers on directors

Hearing gets testy, emotional, leaving no time to vote

JOHN D. KIM, Allegations of poor morale

WAILUKU — The Maui County Council on Friday heard from approximately 75 testifiers in a sometimes heated and emotional public hearing on the confirmations of 11 department director appointees of Mayor Michael Victorino.

The council took no action on the appointees, with the panel recessing at around 6 p.m. after taking up most of the other items on the agenda.

The council will deal with the appointments again at 9 a.m. Friday in Council Chambers.

All 11 department heads, including acting Managing Director Sandy Baz, faced hours of questioning and review before the council’s Governance, Ethics and Transparency Committee.

The panel recommended approvals of all nominees, except Pat Wong for Corporation Counsel; John D. Kim, County Prosecutor; William Spence, Housing and Human Concerns.

PAT WONG, Children came to testify

The eight other appointees were recommended for approval to the full council, though some by slim 5-4 margins.

In the nearly seven-hour public hearing on the nominees Friday, much testimony, both in favor and opposition, focused on Kim, Wong and David Goode, acting director of the Department of Public Works.

Testifiers on Kim included people upset and disappointed over his vetting process in the Jan. 30 hearing by the committee, which voted 5-4 to recommend rejecting his appointment.

In that meeting, some council members mentioned receiving a flood of emails, calls and visits from people alleging poor morale in the office, hostility, retaliation, favoritism and harassment. Concerns over overtime also were raised.

At the meeting, Kim said it would be difficult to respond to the allegations because he did not know where they came from. Because of potential personnel and litigation issues, he offered to discuss things in executive session, but some members rebuffed his offer.

DAVID GOODE, Some lauded him, some not

At Friday’s meeting, deputy prosecuting attorneys, including some female lawyers, said they have never seen or experienced harassment, retaliation or favoritism by Kim. His supporters said that every office contains people unhappy with their boss and that there may be cases where people may be unhappy that a ruling or verdict may not have gone their way.

Some supporters questioned the actual breadth of constituents raising concerns with council members.

A former deputy prosecutor and now defense attorney William Sloper testified in favor of Kim, whom he said always knew the answers to Sloper’s questions. While he works on the other side of the courtroom now, Sloper said Kim is willing to listen to his position even if he disagrees.

Sloper said the prosecutors’ office could deal with 1,000 arrests every year, and there are some decisions that may not be popular.

He said some critics speaking out are a “very loud vocal minority of individuals, who cry out when they don’t get their way.”

Not everyone supported Kim. Some said Kim and his office did not handle their cases well or compassionately. One testifier talked about an abuse and assault case that took months and multiple attorneys to address and that “in the end the justice system failed.”

Wong’s workers, as they did in the committee hearing, came to support their boss on Friday. They described him as a good boss, mentor, friend and a good person.

In committee, members voted 5-4 in favor of a resolution to recommend disapproval of Wong.

Some of Wong’s children, who flew back home from other islands and the Mainland, testified in support of their father, whom they said is hard-working and dedicated to his job. They called him the best person for the job.

Those speaking against Wong complained about his temperament, with one testifier saying he swore at her and tried to intimidate her during a meeting. Others called him an attorney for developers and not the county.

Goode, who got a favorable recommendation from the committee in a 5-3 vote, received both favorable and unfavorable testimony.

Some testifiers from Kaupo lauded Goode for being very responsive to their community. He drove out to the remote community to meet with the people there to work out solutions to public works projects.

But a handful of others criticized Goode for allowing grading in areas that threaten Hawaiian remains. Goode has said that the county takes direction from the State Historic Preservation Division, which reviews archaeological matters.

Testifier Kai Nishiki, who testified against Goode, Kim, Wong and water director appointee Jeffrey Pearson, rejected claims that the process, which sometimes involved several hours of questioning by council members, was too harsh. Nishiki said it is a job interview.

“They are working for us, the people,” she said.

She referenced a comment made by Council Member Tasha Kama, a swing vote in several of the nominations, who said in a previous meeting that doing something the same way and expecting a different result was “insanity.”

Nishiki applied this to some of the carry over department heads from the Arakawa administration, including Goode, Kim and Wong.

“We are saying time’s up,” she said.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached atmtanji@mauinews.com.