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Vote: Alice Lee new council chairwoman

Committees reorganized in wake of King's resignation as chair

Chairwoman Kelly King listened to more than two dozen testifiers voice support for her during a council meeting held a week after she announced she will resign as chair. -- The Maui News / KEHAULANI CERIZO photo

WAILUKU — The Maui County Council voted 7 to 2 Friday to elect Council Member Alice Lee chairwoman, replacing Kelly King, who recently resigned from the post to head the new council committee on Climate Action and Resilience.

King announced the move last week. The changes will become effective Thursday.

Two opposing votes came from King and Council Member Shane Sinenci. Sinenci has said King is a mentor who shares his “aloha aina” values.

During the vote, King said she hoped Lee wouldn’t take her opposition personally. The outgoing chairwoman added that she takes issue with Lee disagreeing with the majority of members who favor the county settling the Lahaina wastewater injection well case that’s pending a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court.

“I would hope that we would have a chair that would fight for us, even if you don’t agree” with all the members, King said, but pledged to work with Lee.

Alice Lee

Lee responded: “I accept that. You and I disagree on a variety of issues. What I bring to the table is a collaborative style of leadership. I love our staff. I will support them as strongly as I can. They need, to me, direction, support, resources and I’m more than willing to commit to that. . . . My management style is more unified.”

King responded, saying, “that is your opinion . . . I think (my) relationship with our staff speaks for itself.”

Lee acknowledged after Friday’s meeting that council members and staff expressed dissatisfaction with the sudden resignations of County Clerk Josiah Nishita and Deputy County Clerk Maggie Clark.

Nishita, who has taken a new job with Mayor Michael Victorino’s cabinet as deputy managing director, was at Friday’s meeting to assist with the transition.

Lee said council members and staff worried about how upcoming elections would function with new clerks. Others pointed to strained relationships with King and other staff.

Council Member Alice Lee has been tapped to lead Maui County Council in the wake of Kelly King’s resignation as chairwoman last week. -- The Maui News / KEHAULANI CERIZO photo

When asked about possible dissatisfaction with her leadership during an interview Dec. 20, King said: “There’s been a lot of issues from day one, there is always the jealousies, the people who wanted the position, people who are picking on every little thing just trying to make a point, but bottom line is we had an amazing year, we got a lot of stuff done.”

At the time, King also acknowledged wanting to spend more time with family and a desire to head up the new committee.

At Friday’s meeting a question was raised about who authored the resolution for restructuring council committees.

Lee said: “I’ll take responsibility.”

Following the meeting, Lee said she took responsibility since concerns arose over how the resolutions were written.

Testifiers held signs and spoke in support of Council Chairwoman Kelly King during a meeting Friday, saying they backed her whether she stayed on as chair or resigned from her leadership post. -- The Maui News / KEHAULANI CERIZO photo

She said council members do not write the resolutions; it is a collaboration between staff and attorneys.

However, Lee emphasized that she did not lead any effort to remove King.

“It wasn’t me asking everyone to remove her, I didn’t do that,” Lee said, noting it was a consensus of a majority of members.

Out of about 30 testifiers Friday, almost all showed up to express gratitude and support for King.

Some wanted King to remain chair, but said they would support any of her endeavors, especially leading the Climate Action and Resilience Committee.

Others criticized the council for “back-room” deals to overthrow King.

Annie Nelson said she voted for King because she is “effective” and not because she has to be “Miss Congeniality.”

“We need someone who needs to get things done and she’s done it,” she said.

If King wanted to step down on her own, Nelson said she will support her, but would take offense if King was pressured by some “good ‘ol boys network” or others to resign.

Nelson added that King would be a good chairwoman for the new climate committee.

Bruce Douglas called King’s removal “power plays and back-door deals” and said “this is a mutiny.”

He urged the council to go into executive session and talk the issues out.

Gail Swanson said “I think she (King) walks the talk more than anybody I know . . . She doesn’t dance around the drama, she gets stuff done. I feel like (if) you step down, I wasted my vote. We need you where you are.”

“I don’t know if there is drama behind the scenes, I don’t really care. I just want the best person in the job,” Swanson said.

Several times, gallery members applauded King and jeered the council.

Before the vote was taken on the resolution to replace her, King noted a list of accomplishments by the council in the past year. They included allocating hundreds of thousands of dollars to address coastal sea level rise, more funding for affordable housing, a turn to managing tourism versus marketing for more visitors to the island and fully funding the animal shelter contract with the county, among others.

Also Friday, members voted to approve two resolutions on council committees and memberships.

The major change was the addition of the Climate Action and Resilience Committee, which will be lead by King with Sinenci as vice chair.

Members Mike Molina and Yuki Lei Sugimura were proposed as committee members, but were removed Friday to balance workloads.

With Lee becoming chair, her Water and Infrastructure committee was combined with the Multimodal Transportation committee. Its new title is Water, Infrastructure and Transportation committee.

Sugimura will lead and Lee will be vice chair. Two members, Tamara Paltin and King, were added because of concerns from testifiers that West Maui and South Maui were not represented. Those are the two residency seats held by both new members, respectively.

Members also designated that water for agricultural use will be addressed in the Environmental, Agricultural and Cultural Preservation Committee rather than in the new Water, Infrastructure and Transportation Committee.

The leadership and names of other committees will remain the same.

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

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