Af­ter elec­tion shakeup, dust be­gins to set­tle for new coun­cil

Coun­cil mem­bers-elect down­play 5-4 split be­tween ‘Ohana-en­dorsed and ‘es­tab­lish­ment’ can­di­dates

The Maui News - - FRONT PAGE - By CHRIS SUGIDONO, Staff Writer

Six new coun­cil mem­bers, in­clud­ing four fresh­men, and a new “per­ceived” 5-4 ma­jor­ity may spur ma­jor changes when busi­ness be­gins in Jan­uary at the County Coun­cil.

South Maui Coun­cil Mem­ber Kelly King ap­pears to be a front-run­ner for chair­woman in the new ma­jor­ity, though mem­bers de­clined Wed­nes­day to view the coun­cil as be­ing di­vided be­tween ‘Ohana Coali­tion-backed can­di­dates and so-called “es­tab­lish­ment” mem­bers.

When the dust set­tled af­ter Tues­day’s gen­eral elec­tion, only Coun­cil Mem­bers Riki Hokama (Lanai), Kelly King (South Maui) and Yuki Lei Sugimura (Up­coun­try) man­aged to hold onto their seats. For­mer long­time Coun­cil Mem­bers Alice Lee and Mike Molina claimed Wailuku-Wai­hee-Waikapu and Makawao-Haiku-Paia seats, re­spec­tively.

First-time win­ners Shane Si­nenci of East Maui, Tamara Paltin of West Maui, Na­talie “Tasha” Kama of Kahu­lui and Keani Rawl­ins-Fer­nan­dez of Molokai rounded out the nine-mem­ber coun­cil.

Lead­er­ship, com­mit­tee and staff po­si­tions are all up for grabs in this new coun­cil with both Coun­cil Chair­man Mike White and Vice Chair­man Bob Car­roll re­tir­ing at the end of the year. White had served as chair­man since 2015.

Mem­bers said they were open to hear­ing from any can­di­date seek­ing the top job, though, King has al­ready “ex­pressed de­sire to be con­sid­ered for chair,” Hokama said. He added that he hopes to re­tain his role over­see­ing the county’s bud­get and fi­nances.

King, Kama and Si­nenci could not be im­me­di­ately reached Wed­nes­day.

“If you want to talk about this side or that side, I be­lieve they can or­ga­nize with their so-called five votes” and elect King, Hokama said. “I think mem­bers are look­ing at other in­ter­ests and com­mit­tee as­sign­ments too, so be­ing a se­nior mem­ber I‘m still go­ing to tell them my strength is in the fi­nan­cial and bud­get area.”

En­ter­ing his fifth two-year con­sec­u­tive term, Hokama has the most coun­cil ex­pe­ri­ence. He pre­vi­ously served from 1999 to 2008. Lee and Molina have both served for 10 years pre­vi­ously. The Lanai coun­cil mem­ber said he is hope­ful to work with newer mem­bers to iden­tify “our strengths and see how we can share re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.”

“I look for­ward to this new vi­brant en­ergy they’ll be bring­ing with them,” he said. “I’ll be in­ter­ested in what their pri­or­i­ties are and in­ter­ests, and that they come with good coun­cil ac­tion.”

“This is my last term,” he con­tin­ued. “I plan to use it as best as I can to share my ex­pe­ri­ence and make sure when I leave the county it is in the best po­si­tion pos­si­ble from the day I started.”

New­com­ers Paltin and Rawl­ins-Fer­nan­dez also look for­ward to start­ing their coun­cil terms in Jan­uary, but they down­played the di­vi­sion be­tween mem­bers.

Paltin said she be­lieved that mem­bers of the for­mer ma­jor­ity did not al­ways make “judg­ments based on log­i­cal rea­sons.” While she and Rawl­ins-Fer­nan­dez were both en­dorsed by the coali­tion, Paltin said she’d like to see that the new ma­jor­ity does not fol­low the same prac­tices.

“Even with it swung the other way, I hope that it doesn’t go like that,” Paltin said. “I hope that ev­ery­body makes the de­ci­sion that they feel is right, not just be­cause of four other peo­ple they are lumped to­gether with. But most of all, I hope that we’re fair. To me, that is the most im­por­tant thing. Peo­ple should vote their con­science and try to act fair.”

Paltin said she did not think is­sues over the ma­jor­ity would af­fect ma­jor top­ics such as af­ford­able hous­ing and home­less­ness, which “all nine of us cared about.” While she was dis­ap­pointed with some of the elec­tion losses Tues­day, she was over­all sat­is­fied with the makeup of the new coun­cil.

“I don’t feel like there was any­one who was elected I’m go­ing to dread go­ing to work with, so that’s a happy thing for me,” she said. “I hope that ev­ery­one is sin­cere about want­ing Maui County to do well.”

Paltin did not dis­close her pref­er­ence for chair­man or chair­woman, but she said that she likes work­ing with King and has sup­ported her ef­forts. She said she plans to keep an open mind and do as much re­search as pos­si­ble be­fore elect­ing mem­bers to po­si­tions.

“I’d like to hear her specifics as to what she wants to ac­com­plish and her plans,” Paltin said of King. “I think it is a pretty big re­spon­si­bil­ity.”

Rawl­ins-Fer­nan­dez said she would sup­port King as chair­woman and be­lieves her to be “very qual­i­fied to run meet­ings.”

“Her meet­ings were al­ways done pro­fes­sion­ally and ef­fi­ciently,” she said. “It’s some­thing I al­ways ap­pre­ci­ated, and I think she did her best to make sure ev­ery­one felt re­spected and heard.”

Rawl­ins-Fer­nan­dez dis­cour­aged the “per­cep­tion of hav­ing sides” and said she plans to per­son­ally ad­dress the is­sue with other mem­bers. She said she also be­lieves the cur­rent com­mit­tee struc­ture should be changed and hopes to chair a com­mit­tee in­volv­ing pol­icy work due to her be­ing the only coun­cil mem­ber with a law de­gree.

“I feel with our di­verse back­grounds and work ex­pe­ri­ence, we bring voices that are re­flec­tive of the com­mu­ni­ties we come from,” she said. “I think we will have our own in­di­vid­ual per­spec­tives on is­sues and how we go for­ward on dif­fer­ent pro­posed bills.”

Molina said he has not made any com­mit­ments on the top coun­cil lead­er­ship po­si­tion and plans to net­work with each mem­ber head­ing into the new year. He said he would be open to lead any com­mit­tee, in­clud­ing the Bud­get and Fi­nance Com­mit­tee.

“The big­gest thing for me right now is touch­ing bases with ev­ery­one and see­ing where we agree and to be re­spect­ful to ev­ery­one,” he said. “It was dif­fi­cult see­ing the tri­als and tribu­la­tions they’ve gone through, but we need to move on and work to­gether.”

Lee said she had not spo­ken to the newly elected mem­bers yet about chair­man­ship or com­mit­tees, but she was happy to share her knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence on the his­tory, du­ties and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of var­i­ous com­mit­tees. Lee formerly served as chair­woman of the Bud­get and Hous­ing and Hu­man Ser­vices com­mit­tees.

She also de­clined to view the coun­cil as be­ing di­vided.

“I see the newly elected coun­cil mem­bers as a ma­jor­ity of nine,” she said.

Sugimura, who fin­ished her first term on the coun­cil, said she hopes to see more unity in her sec­ond term. She re­called the di­vi­sion amongst mem­bers that be­gan af­ter the 2016 elec­tion, when it took 13 1/2 hours to re-elect White as chair­man.

“I don’t want to ever see that re­peat it­self,” she said.

Sugimura also did not re­veal her po­si­tion on coun­cil lead­er­ship, but she said she be­lieves the new leader needs to “un­der­stand pro­cesses and pro­ce­dures and have a way of bring­ing the coun­cil to work to­gether.”

She said she would like to con­tinue her role over­see­ing the coun­cil’s Pol­icy, Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment and Agri­cul­ture Com­mit­tee, but she said she’s open to sug­ges­tions from other mem­bers.

“We’re all in the same ca­noe, and we need to pad­dle to­gether for the com­mu­nity,” she said.

Chris Sugidono can be reached at csug­i­

KELLY KINGEy­ing lead­er­ship spot

The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Happy Pono Net­work sup­port­ers toast af­ter the third print­out re­sults were an­nounced Tues­day at Akaku Maui Com­mu­nity Me­dia’s elec­tion night block party in Kahu­lui. ‘Ohana Coali­tion-backed can­di­dates took five of nine coun­cil seats and are in po­si­tion to elect a coun­cil chair­man or chair­woman.

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