Get Involved With A Public Board Or Commission. They Need You - Honolulu Civil Beat


About the Author

Caroline Kunitake

Caroline Kunitake is a member of the American Association of University Women’s Honolulu branch.


There are many among us who seek to have our voices heard and to influence the policies that govern our society. But few of us are interested in raising money and running for public office.

So, what to do? We vote, we lobby, we attend rallies, we post comments and write letters to the editor to get our views out into the public sphere.

There is another way to get involved. At any given time, Hawaii’s numerous boards and commissions have hundreds of vacancies and are looking for new members, who usually serve in a volunteer capacity. Anyone who is seeking to apply for a seat needs to file an online application, list references and supply letters of recommendation.

Differing boards may have differing requirements to serve: which island you live on, for example, or that you have Native Hawaiian ancestry, or that you are a member of a certain profession. As long as you meet the criteria to serve, from there the governor (at the state level) or mayors (at the county level) appoint members.

Boards and commissions connect and empower active local citizens who are interested in issues that affect all of us who live in the state or in one of our counties. Sitting on a public body offers tremendous potential to shape and influence both current realities and the future outlook for specific public issues.

Boards and commissions offer members an opportunity to be involved in complex decision-making and to gain valuable experience in governance. They are required to announce and hold public meetings so those who sit on them also have a regular opportunity to interact with the community and to hear the thoughts of their fellow citizens.

These meetings may happen as frequently as twice a month or as infrequently as four times a year — the time commitment required varies depending on the complexity, scope and volume of issues addressed by the board or commission.

Members of the Board of Land and Natural Resources, seen here in 2016. Ana Giliberti-Ippel/Civil Beat

Our boards and commissions are enacted by the constitution of the state of Hawaii, by state statutes and by executive orders. The boards and commissions themselves, and the issues they cover, are incredibly varied.

A random sampling from the State of Hawaii Boards and Commissions Directory, for example, includes the nine-member board of the Hawaiian Homes Commission, a body that helps to establish criteria that will determine the boundaries and locations of Hawaiian homestead communities.

There is the Commission on Fatherhood, an advisory board attached to the Department of Human Services which recognizes outstanding fathers and father programs and services.

There is the five-member Board of Acupuncture, run through the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, which confirms who is issued an acupuncture license in the state.

There is the nine-member board of the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts, which makes decisions on commissioning artworks in the schools and acquiring artworks for the state.

There is the Cable Advisory Committee, which advises the director of the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs on cable operators.

There is the seven-member Board of Land and Natural Resources, which reviews and takes action on state land leases and Conservation District Use Applications.

And that’s just a small sampling.

We all know that Hawaii is an insular place and that power in the islands is centralized. And we know that it is in the best interest of growing our plurality and democracy for new people to apply to our boards and commissions — ideally, we want those bodies to broadly represent the various income levels, education levels, ethnicities and races, ages, genders and other demographic factors of our entire community.

Take, for example, gender. If approximately 50% of Hawaii’s population is female, then half of our government positions — at all levels of power and authority — should ideally be filled by women.

In 2020, only 37% of the positions on Hawaii’s major boards and commissions were filled by women (representation wasn’t great in other areas of government either — for example, only 30% of Circuit Court judges were women). In an effort to encourage, recruit and appoint more women to these positions and achieve gender parity, concurrent resolutions were introduced in the House and Senate last year for consideration by the full Legislature. When the legislative session was disrupted by the pandemic, the resolutions fell by the wayside.

But there is nothing to stop women from applying today. Currently there are hundreds of vacancies listed on the State of Hawaii Boards and Commissions website. Applicants may apply to up to three boards/commissions per application and may file as many applications as they wish. Applications to boards/commissions with no current vacancies are kept on file for future vacancies.

The Hawaii State Ethics Commission is one of many commissions in the islands charged with key responsibilities, in this case “to preserve the public’s confidence in state government and promote high ethical standards among the public servants of the state of Hawaii.” It’s currently looking for new members. Chad Blair/Civil Beat

The governor nominates and makes appointments to more than 170 boards and commissions. The Senate is responsible for confirming individuals appointed by the governor. All of the governor’s appointments require public hearings, must be voted on in committee and sent to the full Senate for a final vote.

The Speaker of the House, the Senate President and city councils also nominate and appoint some board and commission positions. For example, the Speaker of the House appoints members of the Information Technology Steering Committee and the President of the Senate nominates applicants to the board of directors of the Hawaii Hurricane Relief Fund.

These appointed experts, local leaders and citizens with valuable sources of knowledge and wisdom decide on issues that cannot be determined by the Legislature, city councils, department heads and others. A board or commission may be tasked with hiring or firing a department or agency head.

The Honolulu Police Commission, for example, appoints and may remove the chief of police. The mayor of the City and County of Honolulu cannot hire or fire the chief of police but appoints the seven individuals who serve on the Honolulu Police Commission. These seven appointees must be confirmed by the Honolulu City Council. Once confirmed, the Honolulu Police Commission members serve for five years with no compensation.

If you are thinking about applying, you can go online and read the public meeting minutes and agendas to learn more about the discussions and decisions of varying boards and commissions. You can also email or call (808) 586-0034 for clarification and information.

The State of Hawaii Boards and Commissions Vacancy List lists state and county-level vacancies. You can also find county openings in Maui County, Hawaii County, Kauai County and the City and County of Honolulu.

Our state and county boards and commissions need volunteers from all walks of life. Boards and commissions create and maintain a balance of power and authority in our government. Please apply or encourage others to apply to make a positive difference in the lives of all who call Hawaii home. And remember when you vote for a governor or a mayor, you are electing leaders who will appoint applicants to serve on vital boards and commissions.


Read this next:

Here's A Way For Hawaii's Government To Get Much Better At Including The Public


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About the Author

Caroline Kunitake

Caroline Kunitake is a member of the American Association of University Women’s Honolulu branch.


Latest Comments (0)

If the government refuses to listen to the recommendations from these boards and commissions, then participation is a complete waste of time. We need decisive action, not more micromanagement.

pull · 1 week ago

Did you check out the link to the boards and commissions? So many shouldn't exist and Hawaii is rated worst of the 50 states for business regulation. Our government needs to focus on its core functions until it can get those right; until at least then, 90% of these boards and commissions should be disbanded along with all their related regulations which just spawn inefficiency and corruption.

M.E.L. · 1 week ago

"Anyone who is seeking to apply for a seat needs to file an online application, list references and supply letters of recommendation."Some positions are not advertised, e.g., openings on the Honolulu Ethics Commission.  For this commission and others, I encourage people to contact the appointing person or agency, e.g., mayor or council.

Natalie_Iwasa · 1 week ago

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