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Charter Commission nominees make first cut

Full council to consider confirmations Feb. 19

A diverse slate of nine residents was recommended by a Maui County Council committee on Tuesday to sit on a commission tasked with updating Maui County’s main guiding document.

If approved by the full council, the nine nominees will join two mayoral appointees on the Charter Commission, which will meet from March 1 to July 1, 2022 to study and review the Maui County Charter, which outlines the responsibilities of the local government from the mayor to the council and each department. The commission convenes every 10 years and proposes charter amendments that are put to the vote in the next general election and can change the way the county operates.

On Tuesday, the council’s Government Relations, Ethics and Transparency Committee approved eight nominees without any opposition and one nominee by a 7-2 vote. Council members each nominated one person from their residency district. The nominees, and their districts, are:

• Kauanoe Batangan, Kahului.

• Doreen “Pua” Canto, Upcountry.

• Grant Chun, Wailuku.

• Lance Collins, Makawao-Haiku-Paia.

• Paul Deslauriers, South Maui.

• Keoni Kuoha, who lives on Maui but was nominated by Council Vice-Chairwoman Keani Rawlins-Fernandez of Molokai after there were no applicants from the island.

• Douglas Mardfin, East Maui.

• Ashley Olson, West Maui.

• George Purdy IV, Lanai.

The nominees came from a range of backgrounds, including education, law, business and nonprofit work. Olson is a teacher at Lahainaluna High School, while Mardfin has lectured at the University of Hawaii’s Manoa campus and Hana Education Center, and Purdy has taught STEM classes to Lanai High & Elementary School students.

Some have nonprofit experience; Chun is the current executive director of Hale Mahaolu, and Kuoha is the former executive director of both the Maui AIDS Foundation and Papahana Kuaola.

Several have volunteered on county boards, including Collins, an attorney known for his pro bono work, and Canto, a small business owner who’s sat on fire and public safety, police and planning commissions.

Others have dabbled in politics and public service; Batangan once ran against Kahului Rep. Justin Woodson and was formerly an executive assistant to Council Member Yuki Lei Sugimura. Deslauriers is the director of the Maui Pono Network, a registered political action committee promoting aina-focused causes and candidates in Maui County.

Deslauriers was the only nominee with two votes of opposition on Tuesday — from Sugimura and Council Member Tasha Kama, who both questioned Deslauriers’ background after written testimony to the committee cited a 2007 newspaper article showing a photo of Deslauriers as part of the 9/11 Truth movement, which believes that attacks on the World Trade Center were orchestrated by one or more government agencies.

Sugimura, who said she had a friend who died in the attacks, asked Deslauriers if he believed in the 9/11 theory.

“At the time I believed it,” Deslauriers said.

“It was something as a concerned citizen I got involved in.”

Deslauriers said that he joined “an organization” from 2004 to 2007 as a way to give the community a voice and said it “may not been in alignment” with others but “it was just questioning.” He added that he was “no longer involved in any way.”

“I do have concerns about the federal government,” he said. “That is why I think county governance is so important.”

Kama, in voting against his nomination, said, “I’m just really feeling a high level of discomfort about this and the fact that we don’t know what he believes.”

Molina also asked Deslauriers about his affiliation and ultimately voted in favor of his nomination, though he said he had “reservations” and that the written testimony did “raise eyebrows.”

Rawlins-Fernandez, however, said the questions were out of order and not related to the Charter Commission. King, who nominated Deslauriers, agreed and pointed out that council members were not asking similar questions of other nominees’ beliefs.

“I think we should keep our discussion on the council to a higher level of what we are looking for in the Charter Commission,” King said. “I think Paul is highly qualified and I just hope we can support him and move on.”

Another nominee who received some scrutiny over his background was Batangan, a senior associate with the planning and project management consulting firm Munekiyo Hiraga.

Batangan said if there were any conflicts of interest with him reviewing charter items that were somehow connected with his employment, he would recuse himself.

Rawlins-Fernandez said that if Batangan is approved by the full council, he should seek an opinion from the Maui County Board of Ethics on how to proceed in regards to planning issues or other related matters that could come up during the charter review.

All nominations now move on to the full Maui County Council, which is scheduled to vote on the matter on Feb. 19. Mayor Michael Victorino will also have two nominees for the commission. There will be no council vetting of the mayor’s nominations, Molina confirmed after the meeting.

Members also have alternates in mind if any nominee fails to pass at the council meeting.

The full list of applicants can be found on the agenda from Tuesday’s meeting at mauicounty.us/agendas.

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

**This story contains a correction from the Feb. 10 print version.

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