Gov. Neil Abercrombie‘s request that all 28 people he didn’t appoint to five key boards and commissions step down has thrown the members into an uproar.
Civil Beat reached 15 of the 28 members Monday. Several said they are inclined to resist the governor’s wishes, and at least four said they’re staying. Many declined to speak on the record, some citing concern about reprisal.
While all 28 members were appointed by former Gov. Linda Lingle, some of the members are Democrats. All the members were unanimously approved by the Democrat-controlled state Senate and received glowing praise from many prominent members of the party.
“I am completely mystified,” attorney Kenneth Marcus, who was twice approved to serve on the Aloha Stadium Authority, told Civil Beat. “I am a lifelong Democrat and I supported Abercrombie in the last election. I have no reason to believe that there is anything that he wants with respect to the stadium that I would not support — in part because he has never discussed this with us. We don’t know what it is he would like to see us do that we are not doing.”
Like many, Marcus has contacted the governor’s office to try to talk directly with him about the request.
At least one member, Ron Agor, Kauai’s representative on the Board of Land and Natural Resources, said he understands the governor’s perspective but that he has no plan to offer his resignation.
“I didn’t take the letter in any other manner than the governor was attempting to get his people in as soon as possible,” said Agor, who is Republican. “To the contrary, I’m going to respond that I’m staying on.”
The first news of the resignation request broke June 16 when The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported that Abercrombie had issued a “courtesy” request to the nine members of the Stadium Authority, asking them to step down.
The next day, the paper revealed that the governor had made the same request of four other boards and commissions: the BLNR, the Public Utilities Commission, the Land Use Commission and the Hawaii Public Housing Authority.
On Monday, administration spokeswoman Donalyn Dela Cruz said in an email to Civil Beat that 28 individuals in all had received letters. There are 37 members on the five panels. The governor did not ask the nine people he has appointed or whose terms are ending June 30 step down.
The governor issued a statement on his mass resignation request Monday:
Our administration needs to be able to work collaboratively with our boards and commissions to get work done in the public’s best interest. This includes a new approach to maintaining our public housing units so residents can live safely and with dignity; developing a statewide vision for our sporting events and venues; and changing our policies for managing and utilizing our limited resources and land.
As with the Board of Education, it’s important that all boards and commissions have the opportunity to have a fresh start, so they can work in alignment with other state agencies and move quickly on important issues.
My request for individuals to voluntarily resign is not a reflection of their service nor an issue of personalities. The people of Hawaii voted for a change in direction; a New Day. I need the opportunity to move forward with a team dedicated to that proposition.
The letters, according to board and commission members who spoke to Civil Beat, appeared to be form letters. Here’s a copy of one of the letters received by a Stadium Authority member:
Civil Beat attempted to reach all 28 members. Only six were willing to speak on the record.
“I’m inclined to tell him respectively that I’m going to decline his request,” said LUC member Norman Lezy, who identified himself as a political independent. “I was appointed to a term and I intend to serve out that term.”
“I was confirmed for another four years, and I believe a deal is a deal,” said Marcia Klompus, a Republican who worked in the Lingle administration with her husband, Lenny Klompus.
Klompus added that the Stadium Authority job is unpaid. “It’s a labor of love,” she said.
Many members are still scratching their heads.
“I’ve read the governor’s request a number of times, and I am somewhat perplexed,” said Republican Travis Thompson, who sits on the 11-member Housing Authority. “There are four people who are continuing on and seven new appointees. That’s a majority of the board. I’m very concerned about the lack of continuity and lack of experience.”
Like many of the appointees, Thompson said staggered terms serve a constructive purpose.
Others, like the LUC’s Agor, said they respected the governor’s prerogative.
“I wasn’t shocked or anything like that,” he said. “I mean, he’s the governor. It’s just that I know what I want, and I’m going to try and stay the course.”
Many members also defended the work they had done thus far for the state. Marcus, for example, said he was proud of his work to secure a contract with CBS Sports that resulted in a new scoreboard and televisions posted throughout the stadium.
“We’ve done some good things,” said Marcus. “There are some very good people on this board, and some are lifelong Democrats just like me.”
Marcus said at least one of his authority colleagues would step down “because they are fearful what can be done if the state decides to be vindictive.”
Kevin Chong Kee, chair of the Stadium Authority, is a Republican who did not support Abercrombie’s election.
But he argues that boards and commissions have a duty to serve constituents rather than the person who appointed them.
“My take on this is that when you are appointed to this position, it wasn’t a mere fact that we do it for the governor,” said Kee. “We took this knowing that it is also for the people. The decisions we make, I want to make sure that we hear from everybody because we represent everybody.”
Kee pointed to an example where the authority resisted political pressure to ban alcohol sales. Then-Lt. Gov. James “Duke” Aiona had aggressively urged the policy change.
“We invited the public to testify, and to me that was how a board is supposed to do it,” said Kee, who called Abercrombie’s resignation request “a little out of line.”
Kee said he’s been hearing from a lot of people urging him to not quit. “They don’t think it’s proper,” he said. “No other governor has done this.”
State Sen. Will Espero, a Democrat who has led many confirmation hearings, told Civil Beat, “It is an unusual time to be asking for these mass resignations. If everyone accepts it, it is a big loss of knowledge to the institution. And that is usually not the best scenario that you want to put an institution in.”
“However, the governor is not breaking any law,” Espero said, “and this is within his prerogative as the executive.”
Alia Wong contributed to this article.