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Ag Department heads to be picked this week

Newest county department set to launch on Friday

Maui County’s new Agriculture Department director and deputy are expected to be announced this week by Mayor Michael Victorino as the deadline for the department to be established approaches on Friday.

The selection committee for the department heads was expected to wrap up interviews with qualified applicants by the end of last week. The committee would then make recommendations to Victorino, who will make the selections, Deputy Managing Director Josiah Nishita said last week.

The appointed director would then need to be confirmed by the Maui County Council, he added. The deputy appointee does not need confirmation.

In November 2020, Maui County voters approved the establishment of a Department of Agriculture. The charter amendment proposed by Maui County Council Member Shane Sinenci aimed to promote food security, biosecurity and diversifying the county’s economy in a state that’s heavily reliant on tourism and imports most of its food.

The annual salary is $114,000 for the director and $102,600 for the deputy. The Maui County Salary Commission initially set the director’s salary at $90,000 and the deputy’s at $70,000 but later raised pay for both positions amid concerns over recruiting applicants. The deadline for job applications was then extended to May 30.

On Monday, Sinenci said he appreciated that the Salary Commission revisited “their initial low salary after reviewing similar positions and reviewing the position requirements adopted by the Council earlier this year.”

“It is critical that we place a person with experience and knowledge in this important position,” Sinenci said in an email. “Creating a new department from the ground up is no small task and much more challenging than taking over an existing department.”

Requirements for the top two jobs include having five years experience in agriculture and in an administrative capacity, either in public service, private business or both, according to the County Charter.

When asked if he thought the process to pick the department heads was lagging with the department set to take effect Friday, Sinenci said that it’s going “as we expected.” He said he appreciates Nishita’s efforts to reach out to the community for input during the planning stages.

The new department will be housed in the county-owned “old Miyahira house,” at 2154 Kaohu St. in Wailuku. Nishita said an email and phone number for the department will be released publicly once the new department is operational.

Once operational, Nishita said the initial things the department is expected to do is hold community/stakeholder meetings, establish departmental framework and develop a strategic plan for the department.

The director will also hire program and office staff, establish standard operating procedures and complete similar operational tasks, Nishita said.

The director will determine when to launch grant programs included in the fiscal 2023 budget.

Sinenci added that initially the director must also begin establishing an understanding of the other county departments as they relate to agriculture and policies that affect the agricultural sector.

The department must also report annually to the mayor and the council on the county’s overall performance in meeting agricultural objectives and any barriers that could be addressed by ordinance, according to the department’s website.

Throughout 2021, an agricultural working group established by the mayor set forth a draft of the department’s mission, goals and objectives. Community meetings were also held to receive feedback on the director and budget priorities of the department.

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

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