It was less than seven weeks ago that Honolulu tapped Richard Keene to lead a newly formed office that would respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In his new role, Keene was supposed to oversee $19 million in CARES Act funds to expand testing, connect residents and businesses to assistance and develop a plan to transition Oahu into an economic future less reliant on tourism.

In the previous two years, Keene worked as an executive assistant to Managing Director Roy Amemiya and liaised with the rail project. Prior to that, he was the chief financial officer for The Queen’s Medical Center and Bank of Hawaii.

Now, Keene is going back to his old job.

Rick Keene will return to his former role.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Alexander Zannes, Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s communications director, said that since Keene was appointed, he had split his time between the new office and his old duties with HART. The decision to let the new position go was mutual, he said.

“The determination was made that whoever led this new office would need to dedicate their attention to these duties full time,” he said in an email. “Rick Keene will continue in his current role.”

The Office of Economic Revitalization will now be headed full time by Amy Asselbaye, executive director of the HMSA Foundation. The city will pay her $13,880 per month, which would be $166,560 annually.

Amy Asselbaye will head a new city office focused on addressing COVID-19.

Previously, Asselbaye was the director of strategic and community development for the Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center. She has also worked in government as a member of the Hawaii Board of Education from 2013 to 2016, a staffer for Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, and a chief of staff to former Congressman Neil Abercrombie as well as when he was governor.

In a statement, Caldwell said Asselbaye brings knowledge and experience to the role.

“Her work in government and in health care provide her with a unique position to lead this office in one of the most challenging times we’ve ever faced in Hawaii,” he said.

The city has also hired Molly Pierce to be a communications and information manager. For over two years, Pierce has worked for the city’s Office of Climate Change, Sustainability and Resiliency. She has served on the Kaimuki Neighborhood Board since 2017.

Steve Terada will join the office too as an executive assistant. Previously he was a regional vice president for Locations Inc., a company that develops location-based technologies. He has also worked for the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and his own real estate company. Until recently, Terada worked in Fukushima, Japan where he “developed a risk communication program to support Fukushima’s revitalization,” the city said. 

The City’s Office of Economic Revitalization was created by reconfiguring the Office of Economic Development. It aims to capture funding and coordinate efforts to recover and diversify Oahu’s economy, according to the city. It provides a single platform to work with state agencies, businesses and nonprofits to address the pandemic, the city said.

Goals include getting unemployed residents back to work, supporting small businesses, ensuring people affected by COVID-19 have food, testing and other necessities, the city said.

The office also runs the city’s COVID-19 hotline – 768-CITY (2489) – which operates out of the Neal S. Blaisdell Center. Team members answer questions and provide clarification about Caldwell’s Proclamations, Emergency Orders and Rules from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, except on holidays.

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