One of the hotly debated topics of this year’s legislative session was whether the Senate would approve Gov. David Ige’s nomination of Jobie Masagatani for another term leading the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.

Masagatani frustrated many senators with her agency’s slow progress toward building homes for Native Hawaiians on their ancestral lands.

Ultimately Ige couldn’t drum up enough support within the Senate and the governor pulled her nomination. Instead, the Legislature approved DHHL deputy director William Aila for another term, despite concerns that his re-appointment would perpetuate the status quo.

Jobie Masagatani was director of DHHL from 2012 to 2019.

Anita Hofschneider/Civil Beat

On Wednesday afternoon, Aila — who is now serving as acting director of the department — emailed DHHL staff to announce that he’s hiring Masagatani as his executive assistant.

The position was previously held by Derek Kimura, who was paid $109,212 in 2018 according to public data. Kimura left the job in January, according to DHHL spokesman Cedric Duarte.

Aila says he hired Masagatani because she was the most qualified of the four applicants who applied to be executive assistant.

“She was the most experienced applicant,” Aila explained in a phone interview Wednesday.

He said Masagatani won’t be making policy in her new role, but rather implementing policies. He said she will have specific tasks, including filling vacancies and completing the reorganization of the department. That involves creating new customer service and awards divisions.

“She’ll actually be working on things that (DHHL was) criticized for not making happen as quickly,” he said.

Aila said that Masagatani’s salary is still being negotiated but $109,000 is in the ballpark. She was previously paid $144,552 as head of the department, according to 2018 data.

Masagatani’s last day as director was May 2, Duarte said in a phone interview Wednesday.

Aila said she could start the new gig as soon as Thursday.

Masagatani did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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