WAILUKU - Current executive assistant to the mayor and former Maui County Council Chairman Danny Mateo was appointed by the Maui County Council on Friday to be the county clerk.
Mateo replaces Jeffrey Kuwada, who retired. Mateo's appointment runs from Dec. 23 until Jan. 2, 2015.
Council members Friday also gave initial approval to amend a portion of the county's circuit breaker tax credit program. The changes extend the circuit breaker application deadline to Jan. 31 from Dec. 31. The county Department of Finance will hang on to the circuit breaker applications until changes are finalized by the council before making any decisions on the applications.
The Budget and Finance Committee will be looking over possible changes to the current law.
There have been a series of issues raised by the community and the grass-roots group Committee for More Equitable Taxation, or COMET, over the new, stricter criteria passed by the council earlier this year. It was an attempt to catch cheaters, or those who can afford to pay their property tax bills.
Budget and Finance Committee Chairman Mike White said Friday that people should still apply for the circuit breaker tax credit. The credit discounts residents' property tax to only 2 percent of their annual gross income.
The circuit breaker matter was moved out of committee Friday to the full council. The measure recommending changes to the program still needs second-reading approval by the council.
Prior to Mateo's appointment, Council Members Don Guzman and White questioned Mateo over matters surrounding his current affiliation with Mayor Alan Arakawa's office.
Mateo said that in his current capacity he is not only a lobbyist for Arakawa at the state level but has also done lobbying work for the council. So, in essence, he has been serving both branches of the county government, not only one.
In response to White's question of being a politician who would be in charge of Maui County's elections, Mateo said former Council Member Rick Medina was also a deputy county clerk after his council term.
Mateo, who held the council's Molokai residency seat for five consecutive terms, added that his experience as a politician would help his work at his new position.
Mateo said he would be able to remain fair, adding "one is able to draw a line in what is and what is not appropriate in that office."
In response to a question from Guzman, Mateo said his top three priorities as clerk would be to address the upcoming elections in 2014; look at how existing elections staff would work; and work at maintaining and preserving county records.
The only council member to vote against the appointment was Elle Cochran. She said it had nothing to do with Mateo's service and commitment. But she said she wanted "new blood."
"It's not a personal thing to Mr. Mateo whatsoever."
Council Vice Chairman Robert Carroll praised Mateo, saying he's a man of integrity and has the experience for the job.
"He knows the operation. We want a smooth-running electoral process," he said.
Council Member Don Couch said that, as a former council chairman, Mateo knows the council clerks office well.
"I think there is nobody with more experience to see the elections run form the other side," Couch said of Mateo.
Council Chairwoman Gladys Baisa also praised Mateo, but she said all council members, including her, would watch him closely.
Molokai residency Council Member Stacy Crivello said: "Danny wouldn't do anything to jeopardize his credibility."
She said that through her "homework," people have told her about his work ethic.
As county clerk, Mateo will see is salary rise to $93,400 per year. Now, he earns $64,000 annually as Arakawa's executive assistant.
Mateo's career change eliminates the possibility of him trying to reclaim the Molokai residency seat he gave up in 2012 because of term limits.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.