Goode given thumbs up but not Spence
Council panel against nominee for housing, OKs public works pick
WAILUKU — A Maui County Council committee Thursday gave a thumbs down on the nomination of Will Spence for Housing and Human Concerns director but gave a thumbs up to David Goode, recommending him for public works director.
They were the final appointees by Mayor Michael Victorino to be vetted by the council’s Governance, Ethics and Transparency Committee. All recommendations both for and against Victorino’s 11 department director appointees, including the managing director, will be sent to the full council for a final vote.
A public hearing on resolutions to approve and reject the appointees is scheduled for 9 a.m. Feb. 15 in Council Chambers. The council has until March 9 to make a decision on the nominees, otherwise the appointees will be deemed approved.
Two other Victorino appointees were rejected by the committee; they were Corporation Counsel Pat Wong and Prosecuting Attorney John D. Kim.
When asked if the council committee process was fair and transparent, Victorino said Thursday night in a phone interview, “I really have to sit down and review how it was done.” He added that he was giving the committee the “benefit of the doubt” because this was the first time the council had the opportunity to vet all 11 directors.
Voters approved a charter amendment in 2016 that called for the council to confirm the mayor’s nominations for 11 department heads, including the managing director.
In the “overall scheme of things, I can say I’m pleased overall and thankful the council did their due diligence” and would give them “a job well done” given the circumstances, said Victorino, who was attending a conference in California.
As for his three director nominees who did not receive favorable recommendations, the mayor noted that a full council vote still awaits and that members could change their minds.
“I put my utmost confidence in those three directors,” he said.
Victorino said he had a plan in case any of his appointees are not confirmed, but he was not divulging details because he felt it is premature.
During the vetting process, some council members alluded to the leadership prescripting votes on nominees. They have pointed to calls or meetings by former Council Member Elle Cochran, who told some directors that they did not have the votes to be confirmed. Acting Planning Director Michele McLean said that Cochran referenced hearing from council Chairwoman Kelly King about the votes.
Attempts by The Maui News to reach Cochran have been unsuccessful, but she sent a text to Council Member Riki Hokama explaining that she was spreading the word on the street and scuttlebutt. King declined comment on the matter pending completion of the confirmation processes.
Victorino said he does not have first-hand knowledge but heard about the contact from some appointees. He said Cochran is no longer a council member and is allowed to speak to appointees.
He said he didn’t know if what Cochran told his nominees was “fact or fiction.”
“I won’t go there,” he said.
The committee spent most of Thursday afternoon vetting Spence. With Hokama and Yuki Lei Sugimura absent and excused, Molina said he was going to send the appointment to the full council without a recommendation.
Instead, the committee decided to take a vote and the recommendation to disapprove Spence’s nomination passed 6-1. The winning side included King, Molina, Shane Sinenci, Tasha Kama, Keani Rawlins-Fernandez and Tamara Paltin. Alice Lee was the lone no vote.
Spence’s qualifications were of particular concern to members, including Molina, who has been voting in favor of Victorino’s nominees. Molina said he was “not convinced” that Spence met the qualification of having three years experience in developing, supervision and planning projects and programs to meet housing or human concerns needs.
Spence pointed to his time in the county’s Planning Department in various capacities, including serving as director, where he oversaw programs and projects that were “definitely aimed” at providing housing.
“Some of your responses just didn’t light a fire in me, so to speak, as it relates (to) housing,” Molina said.
He added that government is “rough” and that he had “sincere admiration” for Spence. “You have your heart in the right place,” he said.
During questioning by members, Spence supported increasing the county’s affordable housing fund from 2 percent of real property taxes annually to 4 percent, upgrading the department’s website to show affordable housing projects and their status and fast-tracking affordable housing permits.
The vote for Goode was 5 to 3 to recommend his appointment. Those voting in favor were Molina, Lee, Sinenci, Kama and Sugimura. In opposition were King, Rawlins-Fernandez and Paltin. Hokama was excused.
During questioning, Goode, who served as public works director in former Mayor Alan Arakawa’s administration, was asked about sand-mining and deferral agreements he had been involved with.
Issues over sand mining on Maui were brought to light in 2017 in a Honolulu TV news station report. It said that a contractor was removing and shipping truckloads of sand to Oahu from the site of Maui Lani’s housing project. The practice soon stopped at the site and a sand-mining moratorium was established.
The issues raised included Native Hawaiians concerns about the iwi kupuna or human remains in the dunes and about the exporting of sand depleting the supply for local needs.
Goode was questioned about the roles of public works and the state Historic Preservation Division in grading permits. Goode said SHPD has 30 days to respond to the county about any concerns, including archaeological, but the county will accept the report while its review is ongoing even if it exceeds 30 days.
Goode said that he has spoken with the former chairman of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources William Aila, who is Native Hawaiian, about the comment period. Aila said that if SHPD, which is under DLNR, doesn’t meet the 30-day comment period the permit could be approved.
Goode said that his department is sensitive to issues of burials and “struggles” with what can be done to protect them.
“State Historic Preservation Division is the agency we rely on to determine what to do with the iwi kupuna when it is found,” Goode said, noting the agency may not always be responsive and is understaffed.
“Our folks feel they get caught in the middle of these disputes,” Goode said.
He liked the idea raised by Sinenci about the county hiring its own archaeologist.
Rawlins-Fernandez sobbed while explaining she could not vote for Goode because his decisions led to the desecration of cultural and historic sites.
“I’m saddened of the deflection of accountability. I’m sad I couldn’t stop this hewa until today,” Rawlins-Fernadez added.
King asked Goode about the “break-neck speed” of a grading permit renewed for Maui Lani Phase 9, when the project was under scrutiny from the public over sand-mining issues and with legislation pending.
Goode said the renewal was processed quicker than others because the staffer was at her desk and on her email so it was renewed at that time. The department also reached out to SHPD for comment on the renewal but never received an answer.
Goode was questioned by Paltin about the 1970s three lot or less deferral agreements, where families were able to subdivide without having to pay for required infrastructure improvements upfront but contribute later on. Critics have pointed out that businesses and wealthy landowners have capitalized on this and that the county never recouped its share of the costs of the infrastructure.
Goode said that those agreements were transferred as properties were sold. The county had to uphold the law with those grandfathered agreements.
There was also criticism about the two lot or less road improvement exemptions ordinance that was passed several years ago. Critics say the ordinance was aimed at helping those on the Upcountry water meter list but actually applies countywide.
Some members alleged Goode pushed the exemptions to apply countywide. Goode said he did not propose or make recommendations for the bill and the concerns being raised by members now were not brought up to him at the time the bill was passed.
King said she has had both good and bad experiences with Goode.
“It’s a struggle to say yes or no to these nominees,” she said. The council’s decisions with the appointees will “affect our county for four years.”
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.