Residents ask commissioner to step down

Stephenson says he hasn’t made a decision yet

Molokai Planning Commission Chairman Rob Stephenson said Tuesday that he hasn’t made a decision yet on how he’ll respond to the calls for him to step down from his post.

At a July 26 Molokai Planning Commission meeting, about a dozen residents led by Palmer Naki asked for Stephenson to be removed.

“We’ve been coming to the meetings for a while, and I feel you do not represent us well,” Naki said, with a group of residents lined up behind him. “You do not stand for Molokai. You do not stand for us, our people, our aina.”

Naki said he was frustrated that “we come here every time, and we protest and we tell you we don’t want this,” but that projects would pass anyway. One recent project driving community frustration was a two-story, eight-bedroom hotel and commercial building in Kaunakakai, proposed by landowner Stanley Wada. Many residents testified against the project, which passed by a 5-2 vote at the July 26 meeting.

“I appreciate the comments from the community, and I can understand the frustrations that they feel,” said Stephenson, who is also president of the Molokai Chamber of Commerce. “Many of the frustrations people feel are misplaced because they don’t fully understand the process. . . . Many requests are outside the authority or purview of the planning commission.”

Stephenson said that the planning commission takes into account community input but that members must also judge a project by its own merits and deficiencies.

“No single aspect should determine the outcome of a project unless it is a statutory deficiency,” Stephenson said.

In an Aug. 2 letter to The Molokai Dispatch, community activist Walter Ritte said that Stephenson had had to recuse himself multiple times because he works with Luigi Manera, who represents many developers on projects. Ritte said that the commission is “stacked” with people representing mainly business interests.

“It has become painfully clear that the Molokai Planning Commission does not reflect the manao of the Molokai community,” Ritte wrote.

But Maui County Council Member Stacy Crivello, who holds the Molokai residency seat, said Tuesday that “the general community doesn’t turn out to Molokai Planning Commission meetings,” so other residents may not necessarily want Stephenson to step down.

“I can appreciate the concern from the one or two individuals, but they don’t speak on behalf of all the island,” Crivello said. “I think some of the concerns that were raised (are) justifiable, but I think we have legal people who can make that determination if there was any kind of conflicts.”

Maui County Planning Director Will Spence said that his department had not received a complaint yet requesting Stephenson step down. He said that the mayor could remove someone from a board or commission, but that “such a removal wouldn’t happen from just differences of opinion between members of the public and a board member.”

“There would have to be some substantive reason like excessive absences, impropriety, or outright conflicts of interests and the member voted anyway,” Spence said.

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

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