Moana Lutey is in line to become the next Maui County clerk at a salary of nearly $157,000.

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That’s more than the county’s top executive currently earns. Mayor-elect Richard Bissen is set to receive a salary of $152,000.

If confirmed by a majority on the new County Council when it convenes on Monday, Lutey will replace outgoing clerk Kathy Kaohu, who said she earns $110,000.

Maui County Council Chair Alice Lee said Wednesday that the huge pay raise is justified since Lutey is an experienced county attorney, unlike Kaohu who is a former legislative aide to council member Tamara Paltin.

Maui County Bldg
Maui County Council members are set to decide if Moana Lutey, the county’s top attorney, should be the next county clerk, and receive a major pay raise in the process. Ludwig Laab/Civil Beat/2022

“It’s all commensurate with training and education,” she said.

Lee added that several county executives earn salaries higher than the mayor.

Lutey currently serves as Maui corporation counsel – the county’s top lawyer — but she is to be replaced by Victoria Hamilton Takayesu in Bissen’s new administration.

Maui County corporation counsel Moana Lutey. Courtesy: Maui County

Moving from corporation counsel to the clerk job boosts Lutey’s salary. As corporation counsel, Lutey earns $149,507, according to Civil Beat’s public employee salary database.

Lutey did not respond to a request for comment about her pending appointment.

Kaohu said she has mixed emotions about moving on from a job she loved and wishes her successor the best.

“It’s all good,” Kaohu said.

A spokeswoman for Bissen said it’s the council’s prerogative to select the county clerk and he will respect whatever decision it makes.

The Maui County clerk conducts elections, certifies ordinances, handles public records and performs a host of other duties related to county government business.

Mayor-elect Richard Bissen says he’ll support the council’s decision for clerk. Ryan Siphers/Civil Beat/2022

Lutey’s proposed appointment came as somewhat of a surprise. Lee had issued an agenda and resolution last Friday that had named James Krueger as the proposed new county clerk at a salary of $110,000. Krueger currently serves as deputy clerk.

On Tuesday, Lee issued a statement clarifying why she switched gears.

“Several county staffers have agreed to changed roles, as proposed in the revised slate of resolutions posted on the agenda,” Lee said.

“I’m pleased to have experienced staff members who want to continue their careers in public service to Maui County residents in new roles,” she continued.

Lee told Civil Beat that Krueger agreed to serve as county clerk temporarily but that his long-term goal is to work in the Office of Counsel Services. Lee rescinded his name when Lutey become available for the post.

“We have probably unanimous support for Moana Lutey” on the council, said Lee.

Serving alongside Lutey if she’s confirmed will be Richelle Thomson as deputy clerk. She would earn a salary of $149,000. Thomson is currently first deputy corporation counsel, a position that pays $142,000.

As of last week, Keoni Shirota was in line for the deputy clerk job at a salary of $98,700. But Shirota decided to remove himself from consideration, Lee said.

MPD Chief Swearing in
Alice Lee says the council likely will unanimously support Moana Lutey as clerk. Ludwig Laab/Civil Beat/2021

Lee wields considerable influence over Maui County affairs as council chair. But her political future is currently murky, resting in the hands of the Hawaii Supreme Court.

More than 30 Maui County voters and one former candidate are asking the high court to order a new election for the Wailuku-Waihee-Waikapu seat currently held by Lee.

The lawsuit claims that problems with mail-in ballots in the Nov. 8 election should render the election results void. Lee won re-election against challenger Noelani Ahia by 513 votes. If the plaintiffs prevail, the court could set aside the results and order a new election.

Lee said she’s not particularly worried about what she considers a “baseless” lawsuit. Even if problem ballots are discounted, she would still have enough votes to retain her seat.

“It would not change the outcome of the election,” Lee said.

The inauguration of Maui County’s new council for the 2023-2025 term is scheduled to take place on Monday at 10 a.m. in council chambers. First-term council members Tom Cook and Nohe U‘u-Hodgins will take their oaths of office at that time.

The council will hold an organizational meeting from 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. that day to select committee chairmanships, to vote on appointments and to settle other matters.

Bissen will become Maui’s new mayor at a swearing in ceremony at 5 p.m. Monday at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center. The public is invited to attend.

Civil Beat’s coverage of Maui County is supported in part by grants from the Nuestro Futuro Foundation and the Fred Baldwin Memorial Foundation.

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