County Council votes down three director nominees

Goode, Kim and Spence rejected; 8 others approved

Keani Rawlins-Fernandez, who holds the Molokai residency seat, speaks during Friday’s council meeting where 11 of Mayor Michael Victorino’s director nominees faced confirmation votes. All but three nominees passed. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

WAILUKU — In a morning of switched stances and passionate last-minute arguments, Maui County Council members took their final votes on the mayor’s department director nominees on Friday.

After listening to more than 70 testifiers a week ago, the council confirmed eight nominees — Managing Director Sandy Baz, Corporation Counsel Patrick Wong, Water Supply Director Jeffrey Pearson, Finance Director Scott Teruya, Environmental Management Director Michael Miyamoto, Planning Director Michele McLean, Transportation Director Marc Takamori and Parks and Recreation Director Karla Peters.

The votes for Baz, Teruya, Miyamoto, Takamori and Peters were all unanimous.

Meanwhile, the council denied three — Prosecuting Attorney John D. Kim, Public Works Director David Goode and Housing and Human Concerns Director William Spence.

Mayor Michael Victorino has up to 60 days to come up with their replacements.

Acting Department of Housing and Human Concerns Director Will Spence listens to testimony before members of Maui County Council voted to reject his appointment Friday. Despite the negative vote, Spence was gracious, saying he will continue to support affordable housing, and “I wish Mayor Victorino and the County Council members all the best as they strive to do the same.” -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

“For eight of my appointees, they can finally remove ‘acting’ from their titles, roll up their sleeves and continue to work for the people of Maui County — without a cloud of uncertainty hanging over their heads,” Victorino said. “This has been an extremely stressful time for department staff and, especially our directors. I thank them and their families for hanging tough during this difficult process.”

The monthlong vetting process included hours of questioning before the council Governance, Ethics and Transparency Committee.

“I remember hearing from some testifiers that we don’t understand what the acting directors go through,” council Chairwoman Kelly King said. “And I beg to differ, because we all go through that for a year-plus when we run for office. We’re on the hot seat. We’re grilled and questioned almost every day for eight months to a year.

“But it was a difficult process, and it’s a first time for this county, and I think we got through it as quickly as possible.”

Patrick Wong

Maui County Council Member Tasha Kama, a swing vote in several director nominees up for consideration, chats during a recess in Friday’s meeting. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

The council’s decisions on Goode and Wong were a reversal from committee recommendations, when members voted 5-3 in favor of Goode and 5-4 against Wong.

Council Member Tamara Paltin and Vice Chairwoman Keani Rawlins-Fernandez made their cases against Wong, questioning his leadership, his treatment of the public and his handling of major cases like the Lahaina injection wells case that is headed to the Supreme Court. They said the community was looking for change, and that voting for Wong would be just “business as usual.”

But Council Member Tasha Kama turned out to be the swing vote, later explaining that she changed her mind because Wong helped her “understand what it is that he does, that he doesn’t really fight against our people.”

“He said that’s his job, is to protect the body politic, which is actually the county in itself,” Kama said. “Therefore when one person files a suit . . . then that person is actually filing against the county, and therefore his job is to protect the county. So I got that in my head, because I was taking it very personally that he was hurting my people who are filing suit against him. But it’s not that.”

The 5-4 vote in Wong’s favor sent murmurs through the gallery and grumbles of “status quo.” Along with Kama, Council Members Riki Hokama, Alice Lee, Mike Molina and Yuki Lei Sugimura voted for Wong, while King, Paltin, Rawlins-Fernandez and Shane Sinenci voted against him.

Maui County Council Member Shane Sinenci reversed himself and voted against confirming David Goode as public works director. He had supported Goode in a committee vote but said many constituents contacted him with concerns about the department after his earlier vote. Goode was rejected for the post by the council. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

David Goode

Meanwhile, Sinenci reversed his previous support — with reservations — of Goode. He said that since the committee vote, he’s been contacted by many constituents with concerns about the department, including its permitting process, response to sand mining and the “irreparable harm to sacred sites and burials” that has impacted many Native Hawaiians.

Rawlins-Fernandez was critical of Goode for similar reasons, saying his actions “display systemic racism.”

“I’m not saying that Mr. Goode himself is a racist,” she said. “It’s the structure and the system itself that is racist . . . in the desecration of our iwi kupuna, in the desecration of Iao, in the desecration of, or the attempt to desecrate, Mo’omuku. It’s true that this doesn’t rest upon the shoulders of Mr. Goode himself. But with the discretionary power that the system gives to Mr. Goode, allows him to violate sections of our community.”

Lee defended Goode, saying that some of the problems people blamed him for “are really not within his purview.”

“If there is a loophole in the law, it is our job to change the law, whether it is regarding subdivisions or sand mining or anything else,” Lee said. “That’s our job. We are responsible for creating the laws. The directors are responsible for enforcing the laws. . . . I don’t think it’s right to be accusing him of some kind of implicit bias when he’s just trying to do his job.”

But the “no” votes from Sinenci, Kama, King, Paltin, Rawlins-Fernandez and Hokama, who was excused for Goode’s vote in committee, were enough to deny Goode’s nomination. Lee, Molina and Sugimura sided with Goode in the 6-3 vote.

Goode said afterward that he had “no comment other than I vehemently deny all the outrageous allegations made by a few council members.”

John D. Kim

Molina, chairman of the committee that vetted the directors, tried one last time to convince the council to go into executive session with Kim to discuss legal and personnel matters that the nominee could not discuss in open session. Molina said he wanted to give Kim the right to argue his case “so all of us get the full story, and we can walk away from this process saying we made a fully informed decision.”

“I would prefer that our vetting process not be perceived as being under a dark cloud of political and prejudiced decision making,” Molina said.

King was opposed and said that “the dark cloud was created by a very angry, aggressive, disrespectful team that works in the prosecuting attorney’s office.” She said she felt like she’d heard both sides of the story and was concerned that the people who were making the claims against Kim wouldn’t be able to defend themselves in executive session.

Molina’s motion failed, and council members later voted down Kim 5-4, with Kama, King, Paltin, Rawlins-Fernandez and Sinenci on the prevailing side.

Kim later said that he was “disturbed” by King’s statement about the deputy prosecutors, saying they were “aggressive and fair-minded.” He said council members raised concerns that couldn’t be discussed in open session.

“Yet these members chose to not hear any reasonable explanations for the issues they raised by turning a deaf ear to listen to any reasonable answers,” Kim said. “What happened to being fair and listening to both sides before judging? When someone refuses to listen to both sides that equals prejudgment. Minds already made up will not give in to reason and common sense.

“I am afraid that is what some of these council members have shown as their true colors.”

Kim said he hadn’t decided what his next steps would be.

William Spence

Council members said they liked Spence but that he didn’t have the qualifications they were looking for to lead the housing department.

“He does care,” Paltin said. “The problem is we’re in a housing crisis right now. Homelessness and drugs are serious issues, and just based on his answers to my questions during his confirmation hearing, I don’t have the confidence that he’s the most appropriate person for this position.”

Sugimura was the lone vote for Spence in an 8-1 decision.

Spence said afterward that he wasn’t sure what he would do next.

“I’ve been working with small and large landowners on projects that amount to about 1,700 affordable housing units,” he said. “I hope to work with some of them in the future.”

Spence, who was the planning director from 2011 until July, when he took over the housing department, said that “it’s been an honor and a privilege to serve and support the people of Maui County.”

“I will continue to support our citizens and will try to aid in the construction of affordable housing,” Spence said. “I wish Mayor Victorino and the County Council members all the best as they strive to do the same.”

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


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