Council members are unhappy with interim appointments

Mayor and council disagree over charter

Victorino

Maui County Council leadership expressed surprise and displeasure with Mayor Michael Victorino’s move to appoint three directors whom the council had rejected days ago to temporarily lead the departments.

Council members said their understanding was that once they voted out a director, he or she would have to step down.

“I asked for an opinion from Corporation Counsel, which states that the acting director must vacate the office once the mayor receives official notice of the disapproval,” Council Chairwoman Kelly

King said. “The mayor received that notice on Monday, yet seems to believe that the charter gives him the authority to approve anyone he chooses to serve as interim director.”

The council denied the three directors — David Goode, John D. Kim and William Spence — during final confirmation votes for Victorino’s nominees on Friday.

King

Late Monday evening, Victorino said that he had appointed the directors temporarily until he could find their replacements. Kim would serve as interim prosecuting attorney until Friday, Spence as interim director of the Department of Housing and Human Concerns until March 17 and David Goode as interim director of the Department of Public Works. Victorino did not list an end date for Goode.

Victorino said Tuesday that he was accepting applications for Goode’s position. Deputy Public Works Director Rowena Dagdag-Andaya has declined, for now, to accept the director’s position.

“The confirmation process has hurt the morale of our department,” Dagdag-Andaya said. “I think the best person for the job already applied and went through the process. I along with much of our staff were very disappointed with the outcome last Friday. I’m unsure who would submit to a new round of scrutiny.”

Applications with cover letters and resumes may be sent to the Office of the Mayor, Attention: Chief of Staff Deidre Tegarden, 200 South High St., Kalana O Maui Building 9th floor, Wailuku, HI 96793. They can also be sent via email to mayors.office@mauicounty.gov.

Victorino explained that the deputy directors have not stepped in as acting directors “for different reasons.” For example, Deputy Housing Director Lori Tsuhako will be off island starting today.

“Our residents expect potholes to be filled, housing opportunities sought out and defendants prosecuted under the law,” Victorino said. “My duty is to ensure all our county departments are operating efficiently to serve the people of Maui County.”

But now Victorino and council members disagree over whether the temporary appointments were the right move.

The Maui County Charter says that a nominee “shall not continue in office if the council denies the appointment.” The mayor then has 60 days to submit a new name. However, the section does not say who can lead those departments in the mean time.

Victorino reasoned that he has the authority to temporarily appoint a department head and added the charter also allows holdovers of department heads, whose terms end with the mayor’s term. The charter says they are supposed to vacate their offices within 60 days or upon the appointment of a successor, whichever comes first.

“This is not exploiting a loophole in the County Charter or an end-run of the County Council’s decision,” Victorino said. “It’s a temporary appointment to ensure ongoing quality public services.”

He added that “perhaps a charter amendment is needed to clear up ambiguities, but that would be for the County Council to propose.”

King, on the other hand, said that while the charter may allow the mayor to appoint interim department heads, the mayor’s action “appears to contradict the council’s specific intent” when it proposed the charter amendment allowing the council to confirm the mayor’s nominees.

Council Vice-Chairwoman Keani Rawlins-Fernandez also disagreed with Victorino, citing the part of the charter that says nominees “shall not continue in office” once disapproved, as well as the code of ethics that holds elected officials to “the highest standards of ethical conduct” in such a way that the public can trust the integrity of government.

“The provision the mayor has cited to grant himself the authority to reappoint these directors, even temporarily, violates the charter in multiple ways, is unethical and is disrespectful to the process and community,” Rawlins-Fernandez said.

Council Member Mike Molina, chairman of the Governance, Ethics and Transparency Committee that’s been vetting the directors, had also expressed surprise Monday evening.

“My initial understanding was that once a director was not confirmed by the council, it was basically the director’s last day, and the clock starts for the mayor to submit a new nominee,” Molina said.

King pointed to a legal opinion from Corporation Counsel the day before the final votes. King had asked what would happen if a director were voted out.

Corporation Counsel responded that “the disapproved nominee should vacate the subject office upon the mayor’s receipt of certified copy of the council’s resolution disapproving such nominee.”

When asked who would then lead the departments, Corporation Counsel said that the deputy directors — or first deputy in the case of prosecuting attorney — would be the ones to step in.

“We could find no direct, relevant charter provision(s) to support this statement,” Corporation Counsel said. “However, it is clearly understood, intended and accordingly compensated by the Salary Commission that in the absence of a director, for whatever reason, the deputy or first deputy is in charge” of the department.

The written opinion also said that the mayor can appoint a temporary director if the deputy position is also vacant.

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