In the weeks before Rep. Calvin Say was replaced as speaker of the House of Representatives, he named at least five people to state boards and commissions. Three of them were made in his last week.

Now, those eleventh hour appointments are drawing criticism from the new House leadership which says those selections should have been left up to incoming Speaker Joe Souki.

“Why is he so desperate for these last minute appointments?” said Rep. Scott Saiki, House majority leader. “It’s unfortunate that someone would take advantage of that situation.”

But Say says he was merely exercising his prerogative as House speaker. And a recent opinion from the attorney general’s office concerning one of the appointments hasn’t found anything wrong with his actions.

Appointing people to dozens of boards and commissions is a powerful perk of being speaker. The selections are solely up to the speaker’s discretion and do not require further review or confirmation, according to Saiki.

Appointee to Water Committee Sparks Concerns

The spat over the appointments began a few weeks ago when the new House leadership found out that Say had chosen Gary Caulfield, vice chairman and chief information officer for First Hawaiian Bank, to serve on the nominating committee for the Commission on Water Resource Management.

The politically charged water commission controls the allocation of the state’s water resources and has been embroiled in battles between developers, large agricultural interests and Native Hawaiian taro farmers.

“The problem is that there is no notification,” said Saiki of the appointment. “He didn’t announce who he appointed. So we learned of the water commission appointment by accident.”

Souki, who couldn’t be reached for comment, subsequently chose his own appointee — Denise Antolini, an associate dean at the William S. Richardson School of Law, where she previously served as director of its Environmental Law Program.

The dispute over who would get to serve — Antolini or Caulfield — was turned over to the attorney general’s office, which recently determined that it would be Antolini. But only because of a technicality.

Now, Saiki wants to know who else Say appointed to boards and commissions during his last couple of months as speaker, when Say knew that he didn’t have the needed votes to retain his leadership position in the House. In mid-November Souki said he had the needed votes from House members to become speaker and Say announced on December 13 that he was stepping down. Say’s departure didn’t become official until January 16, the first day of the legislative session.

Last week, Saiki sent a letter to Say asking for the “names of all persons who you appointed to boards, commissions and other entities between November 7, 2012 and January 15, 2013.”

As of Tuesday, Saiki said Say still hadn’t responded to the letter.

Say told Civil Beat that the speaker’s office already has all of that information.

“All of the files are in the speaker’s office. I can’t take them with me,” he said. “I’m not the speaker anymore.”

Still, he said he was in the process of gathering that information from Tony Benabese, manager of Boards and Commissions.

“We will be responding very shortly to the majority leaders,” said Say.

Who Say Appointed

Say is gathering the information for House leaders, but told Civil Beat he remembers who he appointed.

For the board of directors of the Hawaii Hurricane Relief Fund he chose Elvira Lo, owner of the chocolate candy company, Hawaiian Monarch Chocolate, or Elvira Chocolat.

He also picked Brian Yamane, a former state legislator and insurance agent.

On January 10, a few days before officially stepping down, Say also appointed Rep. Sharon Har and Rep. Henry Aquino, to positions on the Oahu Metropolitan Planning Organization, which is in charge of coordinating long-range transportation planning for Oahu.

Har and Aquino are Say supporters.

Say said he made the appointments because of their knowledge of the Honolulu Rail project.

When Civil Beat told Saiki the names of Say’s appointments late Tuesday, Saiki said that he’s going to look into whether those selections can be overthrown, too.

The lack of communication between the lawmakers is perhaps emblematic of the ongoing tit-for-tat between the senior lawmakers the two factions of House Democrats that has been brewing since the transition of power began weeks ago.

Whether Say’s appointees are allowed to remain on the committees will depend on whether the positions include a term limit.

Say submitted Caulfield’s name to the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, which oversees the water commission, on January 9. But his letter didn’t state the length of the appointment and the statute is silent on term limits, according to a letter from the attorney general’s office.

Deputy Attorney General Donna Kalama said it was therefore within Souki’s power to remove Caulfield by appointing his own person for the committee.

Saiki said he is checking on Say’s other appointments to see if those positions have fixed terms. If they don’t, Souki could ostensibly replace them.

Saiki said that because of Say’s actions, the House recently adopted a new rule that requires the House speaker to notify members of any new appointments to boards and commissions.

“So there is a requirement for disclosure (now),” he said. “That is because of the nature of these appointments, because in effect they are made on behalf of the House.”

Read the letter from Rep. Saiki to Rep. Say:

The attorney general’s office issued this letter resolving a dispute over who would serve on the nominating committee for the state water commission:

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