Job hunting in twilight of Arakawa administration

And, for those who remain, there’s work to do until the end

Maui County Managing Director Keith Regan was one of three finalists considered for a county manager position in Washington state late last month. The Wailuku resident didn’t get the job with Clark County after public and private interviews, but he said it was “flattering” to be a finalist.

Located in southwestern Washington, Clark County has a population of around 475,000, or well more than double Maui County’s resident population of 166,348 as of July 1, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“I actually didn’t apply for that job. I was sought out. I was approached by a recruiter,” Regan said last week.

If Regan had been hired, it would have meant relocating to the Pacific Northwest with his family, including wife Lynn Araki-Regan, chief of staff for Mayor Alan Arakawa, who also will look for new employment after the current administration ends this year.

“Our roots are here, and so obviously the last thing I want to do is leave,” Regan said. “I would love to continue to serve the people of this community in county government. (But) we don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Regan is not alone among appointed administration officials in limbo, although former Department of Housing and Human Concerns Director Carol Reimann was proactive and resigned June 1 to become vice president on Maui for Alexander & Baldwin Inc. She began her new job last week.

“Had this position not been available, I would have stayed on until the end of the term,” Reimann said in an email. “This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me that I could not pass up.”

Reimann said she believed that her experience in business, agriculture and housing was a “nice fit” for A&B, one of Maui’s largest private landowners with interests in commercial real estate, and which is in an ongoing effort to find productive uses for 36,000 acres of former sugar cane land.

“More importantly, I had always known that A&B was a responsible company with deep roots and solid local values that gives back; and I really wanted to be a part of such a community-minded organization,” Reimann said.

County Department of Transportation Deputy Director Marc Takamori also left his position earlier this year for a civil service job in the department, said Maui County Communications Director Rod Antone. One of Arakawa’s executive assistants, John Buck, who has a background in transportation, is filling Takamori’s shoes, Antone said.

Overall, Antone said he’s not surprised that members of Arakawa’s Cabinet are being recruited for other jobs because they have lots of experience.

“The sad fact is that many of the appointees cannot afford to wait until the last day of the term to start job hunting,” he said. “We all have bills to pay, and, if the right job opportunity presents itself, we might have to take it. The mayor understands this, and we appreciate that.”

So how does an administration cope with losing its top leaders? Is momentum lost in a “lame duck” administration?

When a department head leaves, it’s not necessarily that a deputy or someone else in the county is automatically hired for the position, Regan said. The administration actively recruits a replacement.

“The leadership of the department is critical,” he added.

But Regan said he recognizes that it’s a challenge to try to fill a position when the job term is limited.

“That’s obviously a concern for us in trying to find an individual who may be interested and understands the term is really only for six months potentially,” he said, using Reimann’s vacant position as an example. The administration is currently hiring for that position.

But, being in a Cabinet position now may translate into gaining a Cabinet job in the next administration, Regan said.

“The fortunate thing for us, we have good division heads that are the next step of leadership. Regardless of what happens with the director or deputy director, the backstop or the fail-safe is the division head,” he said.

For example, in the Housing and Human Concerns Department, Regan said division heads are fully versed in their responsibilities.

Deputy Director Jan Shishido has the experience and know-how to manage the department, Regan said.

Throughout the county, Regan said there are division heads who have been at their jobs even from the beginning of the first Arakawa administration in 2003.

The county has not seen a “lame duck” mayor since the end of the Linda Lingle administration in 1998.

But, at that time, the mood may have been different among department heads because Lingle was campaigning for governor. She lost in 1998, but she won in 2002 and served as governor until 2010.

Georgina Kawamura served as county budget director under Lingle, and last week she could not recall if any department heads departed before Lingle’s term ended.

“Actually, full disclosure, we were very busy in helping her campaign for governor when we had free time,” Kawamura remembered. “She was committed to finishing her term; we did too.”

Kawamura went on to serve as Lingle’s state budget director. Now, she’s a program director at the University of Hawaii Maui College.

But it would be understandable if a department head was offered a good job and left the administration, she said.

“It’s something we accept when you take a Cabinet position, you know we’re at the will of that elected official.”

But she said that, as a department head, “you got to hope what you gained in your years of experience in government and working for one particular administration or executive (you) prove your worth.”

And that could lead to a position in another administration, she said.

For example, Kawamura also worked in the administration of Mayor Hannibal Tavares, and then with Lingle, who succeeded him in 1991.

Sharing similar sentiments is current Department of Environmental Management Deputy Director Michael Miyamoto, who served in the first and second Arakawa administrations.

Miyamoto also worked under former Mayor Charmaine Tavares after she defeated Arakawa in 2006. Arakawa came back to unseat Tavares in 2010.

“Today, facing another change in (administration), we hope the work that we have done serving the people of Maui County serves as our resume,” Miyamoto said.

He said he’s not too worried about his next steps, noting that he has a civil engineering degree and there are job opportunities in the private and public sectors.

As for county work slowing down or stopping as a mayoral administration winds down, it’s quite the opposite, say those who’ve served in the Arakawa and Lingle Cabinets.

There are projects to be completed or started, and outgoing administrators look ahead to a successful transition for their successors.

The current county administration is gearing up to put the estimated $27 million County Service Center in Kahului out to bid, possibly in July. The administration aims to break ground on the project in Alexander & Baldwin’s Maui Business Park II before Arakawa leaves office, Regan said.

Also to be worked on and completed is an upgrade to the county’s human resources’ payroll system and pushing forward the $81.2 million Wailuku civic complex, a multistory parking structure and three-story building for county offices, special events and some retail. Infrastructure upgrades are tied to that project.

“Every department has projects they are working on. . . . The intent is either to complete them or get them well along the process,” Regan said. “The intent is to make sure everything is ready for the next administration so they can continue on with those projects.”

The same process was followed when the Lingle administration was winding down.

“We were busy until the end. There were things everyone wanted to finish up,” said Lloyd Yonenaka, Lingle’s county public information officer.

Yonenaka also followed Lingle to various positions at the state level. Now, he’s vice president at CommPac, a strategic collaboration and communications company on Oahu.

There also was a commitment to set up the next administration for success.

“You just want to make sure the transition happens well. I think everybody realized we work for the public. It was to the public’s interest that the transition happens well,” Yonenaka said.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.