Two more directors pass muster in council panel

Pearson for water, Teruya for finance are recommended

Acting water Director Jeff Pearson answers a question during his confirmation hearing in Maui County Council Chambers on Friday afternoon. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

WAILUKU — A council committee recommended approval Friday of Mayor Michael Victorino’s appointments of Jeffrey Pearson as water director and Scott Teruya as finance director.

The Governance, Ethics and Transparency Committee recommend Pearson’s confirmation by a vote of 7 to 2, with members Tamara Paltin and Keani Rawlins-Fernandez voting no. The vote for Teruya was unanimous, 7 to 0 with members Rawlins-Fernandez and Chairwoman Kelly King excused.

The committee ran out of time to vet the appointments of acting Public Works Director David Goode and acting Housing and Human Concerns Director Will Spence. Those nominations will be taken up at 2 p.m. Tuesday in Council Chambers.

That meeting will follow another one scheduled at 9 a.m. Tuesday to review acting Planning Director Michele McLean and acting Corporation Counsel Patrick Wong.

So far the committee has recommended approval of Parks Director Karla Peters, Transportation Director Marc Takamori, Environmental Management Director Michael Miyamoto and Managing Director Sandy Baz.

Maui County Council Member Tamara Paltin asks Jeff Pearson a question Friday. She voted against recommending approval of his nomination but was on the losing side of a 7-2 vote. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

It has recommended the rejection of Prosecuting Attorney John D. Kim, a holdover from the Alan Arakawa administration, in a 5-4 vote late Wednesday night. Kim is the only Victorino nominee to date who has been recommended for rejection.

All of the committee recommendations head to the full council for action. The council has until March 9 to make a decision on the appointments; otherwise they will be deemed approved.

Committee Chairman Michael Molina said he intended to finish vetting the remaining appointments Tuesday and had no other recess meeting dates scheduled.

Water director appointee Pearson, who was CEO of the state Commission on Water Resource Management, has experience in the county water department, serving as deputy water director and capital improvement project manager.

Council Member Yuki Lei Sugimura, whose residency district is Upcountry, asked Pearson about clearing the Upcountry water meter wait list. She noted that Pearson said in written answers that one of his goals was to trim the list in half.

Pearson responded, saying that his answer on the questionnaire was done two weeks ago and that working more with the department he’s learned “that may not even be attainable.”

He explained that when someone is taken off the list because he or she received a meter it could be a “double-edged sword” because there now are more people drawing from limited sources.

Pearson suggested a meeting with the department, consultants and Council Member Alice Lee, who chairs the council Water and Infrastructure Committee; the group could learn about the issues surrounding the list.

“We have to find a way to speed it up,” he said. “We have to ensure we have the sources available.”

Hearing testimony from Hui o Na Wai Eha, who raised concerns about Pearson’s appointment, King asked Pearson how he would work with that Native Hawaiian group and others. Hui o Na Wai Eha, a community-based nonprofit organization of taro farmers and Native Hawaiian practitioners, has battled to have water restored to streams in East Maui that Alexander & Baldwin had diverted for its former sugar fields.

Group representatives testified to the council committee that Pearson unfairly targeted kalo farmers for fines and did not properly enforce interim in-stream flow standards and stream work permits as head of the state Commission on Water Resource Management. 

Pearson said Friday that his relations with those in the group “isn’t horrible” but isn’t great. He did acknowledge some difficult times. In response to King’s suggestion, Pearson said he could commit to meeting regularly with the group. 

“I don’t feel it’s a lousy relationship,” Pearson said. “I can work harder to get a better relationship with them.” 

He noted that in-stream flow standards are not easily enforced with water levels affected by rain and other factors. “It’s an imperfect system right now,” he said of the enforcement process.

During the committee vote, Paltin said she could not support Pearson, after listening to testifiers including the Na Wai Eha group. Rawlins-Fernandez said her naau was “twisted” and could not support the resolution for approval. 

On Teruya’s nomination, Lee asked if he knows of ways to reduce wait times at the Division of Motor Vehicles and Licensing.

“Everything is possible,” Teruya replied.

The worst times to visit the DMVL are the first and last days of the month, he said. There are some days where it’s “quiet.” 

Lee said she waited in line for 45 minutes for a license renewal that took 10 minutes. She suggested possibly opening on Saturdays, which Teruya said made fiscal sense.

Teruya offered the possibility of opening at nights and staffed by part-time workers.

Still, he needed to see if those proposals are feasible.

Teruya was asked by Sugimura if he had been contacted by a former council member regarding his appointment and whether he had the votes to be confirmed. She did not name the former council member.

“I was contacted,” Teruya said, adding that he was not told whether he would be voted “up or down.” The message Teruya said he received from the contact was that five members had “concerns.”

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

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