A ‘Friendlier Process’ Proposed For Maui County Board Applicants - Honolulu Civil Beat

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About the Author

Sally Kaye

Sally Kaye is a resident of Lanai, an editor, former prosecutor and currently serves on the Lanai Planning Commission.


Are you one of many people in Maui County who volunteered to serve on a board or commission over the years and got rejected?

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Did you get one of those letters thanking you for applying that said, “We’ll hang on to your paperwork for two years,” but didn’t say why you didn’t make the cut?

If so, you may want to try again. If a proposed charter amendment recently submitted to Maui County Council makes it on November’s ballot, you may get a more transparent review of your application and qualifications.

The Maui County Charter Commission recently zeroed in on 13 proposed charter amendments — down from an initial 139 — one of which would create an independent nominating board to recruit and nominate individuals to serve on the county’s 33 boards and commissions, ranging from Affirmative Action to Workforce Investment.

The charter amendment setting up a nominating board would address what to many has become an intolerably obscure process.

According to Council member Kelly King at a recent Government Relations, Ethics and Transparency Committee meeting, “The thing I really like about this is it makes it more transparent, independent and professional. One of the problems before is that we didn’t know where the names were coming from.”

It wasn’t always so opaque.

Back in 2006 when newly elected Mayor Alan Arakawa wanted “the best people” to serve the county, he appointed a blue ribbon committee to recruit and screen applicants, according to retired Maui Community College professor and Maui activist Dick Mayer.

The process typically identified 70 to 80 individuals for Arakawa’s consideration and council’s confirmation but was discontinued when Charmaine Tavares became mayor.

When Arakawa was reelected, he dispensed with the blue ribbon group and turned the recruiting, vetting and selecting of nominees over to his then executive assistant — now current council member — Mike Molina (Makawao, Haiku and Paia). And that’s when many think the process went dark.

Riki Hokama, currently a special assistant to Mayor Mike Victorino and a former county council member (Hokama said he’s been approached to run again for the Lanai seat) agreed that the nominating process under Arakawa’s second term was less than transparent.

Hokama said that he wasn’t much consulted on nominees from Lanai back then, and many complained that Pulama Lanai (Larry Ellison’s management team) played an outsized role in pushing hand-picked employees to serve, which could raise the specter of a conflict of interest on key boards and commissions.

Now that Mike Victorino is mayor, Ipo Mossman, with the help of a “selection committee” of four to five other mayoral appointees, shepherds the recruiting process, annually soliciting individuals to apply for openings that occur when many board and commission members cycle off each year. He says lately it’s been a struggle due to less volunteers applying and being constrained by having to meet certain conditions.

“We shoot for a balance,” he said, “but it’s hard to find applicants that not only are qualified, but represent gender and district requirements.”

During the most recent mass nomination process, which had 63 vacancies, “there were fewer applicants” — a result, he suspects, of Covid-19 restrictions and economic challenges. Council member Gabe Johnson (Lanai) told me, “Ipo is doing a great job — but right now he has about 40 applicants, usually he’s sitting on 80.”

Hokama thinks the pushback by county council on proposed nominees is greater now than when he was on council, and there are so many vacancies because applicants “don’t want to feel they’re being attacked” at the council level.

Mossman agreed. “Getting enough applicants from Hana, East Maui, Molokai and Lanai is always a challenge because they are such small areas, and many applicants watch the approval process at the council level and don’t want to be interrogated,” he said.

He thinks it’s possible the proposed independent nominating board might help insure a “friendlier process” for applicants.

It’s clear that Mossman really cares about the process — and his pool of nominees. He explains the work of the boards each applicant wants to serve on, alerts them to the “heavy attendance requirement,” and says he feels a sense of satisfaction “when we can see a board or commission successfully rebuilding.”

Proposed Alternatives

After discussing the proposed charter amendments on Feb. 28, March 1 and March 2, the council voted March 18 on proposed alternatives to send back to the charter commission.

Suggested revisions were minimal: the number on the nominating board would increase to 11 from nine, one from each county residency district and two appointed by the mayor; terms would be staggered to avoid a mass exodus at one time; all 11 members nominated to the nominating board would be publicly identified (it would be a “sunshine” board); and the county auditor and county clerk were removed from the proposal.

Take heart if you’re one of those who volunteered before and didn’t make it.

Once council’s proposed charter amendment alternatives are in front of the charter commission, it can agree — or not — with council’s suggestions.

And if fact, the charter commission voted overwhelmingly to reject council’s proposed alternative to No. 10 on Thursday, so the commission’s original proposal now goes back to council for further deliberation. Council can either withdraw its proposed alternative  —  or there could be dueling ballot entries for voters to consider in November.

But take heart if you’re one of those who volunteered before and didn’t make it. Both Tamara Paltin (who represents West Maui on the council) and Gabe Johnson admitted they had been rejected for a board and commission appointment in the past.

And look where they are now.

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About the Author

Sally Kaye

Sally Kaye is a resident of Lanai, an editor, former prosecutor and currently serves on the Lanai Planning Commission.


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