The Honolulu Fire Commission will soon welcome a new member, but it will probably not make any immediate difference in the search to hire a new chief.

Dave Matlin, director of athletics for the University of Hawaii Manoa, was unanimously approved by the Honolulu City Council on Wednesday. He was appointed by Mayor Rick Blangiardi in June.

But Matlin said he would abstain from voting on the two finalists vying to replace former Honolulu Fire Chief Manuel Neves, who retired in February.

Fire commissioners have been stalemated for months on the hire. Three members favor Lionel Camara, Jr., the acting chief, while three others back Sheldon Kalani Hao, the acting deputy chief.

UH Athletic Director Dave Matlin spoke to the Honolulu City Council about his nomination to serve as a fire commissioner.
UH Athletic Director Dave Matlin spoke via Zoom to the Honolulu City Council Wednesday about his nomination to serve as a fire commissioner. Screenshot

In a Sept. 22 memo to Council Chair Tommy Waters from Councilwoman Heidi Tsuneyoshi, chair of the Public Safety Committee that handled the nomination, Tsuneyoshi explained that Matlin recognized that “the process would be flawed” if he were to be appointed and cast the deciding vote because he was not a part of the candidate vetting and interviewing process.

Matlin reiterated that position Wednesday at a full City Council hearing, prompting Tsuneyoshi to praise him for his “integrity, openness and transparency.”

However, when asked by Councilman Brandon Elefante whether Matlin might change his stance should the fire commission start the hiring process all over and result in the same two finalists, Matlin called it “a really good question.”

He said that he would still have concerns about perceptions that the hiring was political or agenda-driven.

“I’d have to give it more thought,” he said, adding that a new search might also lead to new finalists, “which would be a different story altogether.”

Council Vice Chair Esther Kiaaina voted with reservations on the Matlin appointment, saying that she has concerns that too many city boards and commissions lack gender equity. The fire commission, for example, has only one female commissioner.

Blangiardi, in response to Kiaaina’s concerns, told the council, “I’m very sensitive to the gender issue.” He said he put a lot of effort into putting a woman onto the Honolulu Police Commission and that he anticipates two seats opening up on the fire commission and “would look to address that issue in filling those seats. I’m very sensitive to that balance.”

Councilwoman Andria Tupola also voted for Matlin with reservations, explaining that she had previously raised concerns about the backgrounds and qualifications for commissioners. She said it was also important for commissioners to be “ready to make hard decisions.”

The fire commission’s next meeting is Oct. 20.

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