Throughout his campaign for the job he eventually won, Mayor-elect Peter Carlisle often joked that his wife called him crazy for wanting the position in the first place. Now that Carlisle’s moving from the Department of the Prosecuting Attorney to Honolulu Hale, he’s taking his deputy prosecutor with him as the city’s new managing director. Doug Chin won’t formally take the post until the City Council approves the appointment.

In coming weeks, Honolulu residents will begin to see what two longtime prosecutors can bring to city politics. Chin admits the path is unusual.

“It’s new for me to go over there and be part of the city, that’s obvious,” Chin told Civil Beat in an interview. “But at the same time, there are a lot of positives. I think this is really a fresh start for the city.”

A new beginning is not without old problems. The city’s economic future is uncertain at best. To offset a multimillion dollar spending gap, widespread pay cuts and mandatory furloughs began for city workers in July. The previous administration’s executive cabinet took voluntary pay cuts a year before that.

Construction on the Honolulu High-Capacity Transit Corridor Project has been stalled nearly a year since former Mayor Mufi Hannemann’s projected October 2009 groundbreaking.

To top it off, Hannemann — on his last day in office, July 20 — signed a consent decree that obligates the city to billions of dollars in sewage infrastructure upgrades over the next several decades. Most acknowledge the overhaul is long overdue.

Hannemann’s successor and a mostly new City Council will be tasked with finding a way for Honolulu to afford and enact those improvements without burdening taxpayers beyond reason.

“It’s daunting and it’s humbling,” Chin said. “But I see a lot of opportunities before me. I’m not here because it’s a stepping stone. I’m not interested in running for anything. I just want to be the mayor-elect’s managing director.”

Chin and Carlisle worked together in the prosecutor’s office for a decade, and they speak highly of each other and their ability to work together. At the prosecutor’s office, Carlisle and Chin managed fewer than 300 staffers. At Honolulu Hale, they’ll be in charge of more than 10,000 workers. Chin acknowledges the change in scale is significant, but says he’s confident he and Carlisle are up for the job — with some help.

“I think it’s important that the directors who are in place are the ones who are the experts,” Chin said. “I feel like my job is really to serve them.”

Chin said he and Carlisle are working hard to find the right cabinet leadership. Chin said some department heads will be asked to stay, others will be asked to leave. Others, such as outgoing Budget and Fiscal Services Director Rix Maurer, will choose to leave. Beyond saying they’re working with human resources during the two-week transition, much of the incoming administration’s game plan has been kept relatively secret.

It doesn’t take much pressing for Chin to elaborate on the learning curve ahead. The transition itself is grueling, especially for Chin, who is also managing the transition at the prosecutor’s office. He cites infrastructure projects as the area of his new job that will present the greatest challenges.

While the city promises that its rail project will spur the economy with job growth and smart development, the project remains stalled and the public’s patience — both those who desperately want rail and those who desperately want the city to abandon the proposal and reassess its priorities — is wearing thin.

“It’s hard,” Chin said. “You have everybody who wants the jobs from rail, but then you have our commitment which is to make sure we’re not sticking it to the taxpayers with something they cannot afford.”

Chin cites Portland’s at-grade, or ground level, system as a source of inspiration.

“From the perspective of rail, the model I appreciate is Portland’s,” Chin said. “I like the ideas they had, how they were able to put their rail system in place in a city that’s pretty close to ours, in some areas it’s very similar.”

Mostly, Chin said he’s focused on how to help Carlisle run a more efficient, less wasteful city. He said he wants to save taxpayers money and offer greater transparency.

“Trying to put into place the kind of management style and structure that the mayor-elect had in place in the prosector’s office,” Chin said. “It’s not to say that the previous administration’s approach was wrong. They may not be perfect but they’re all public servants who are trying their best. It’s just that our approach will be different.”

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