Rawl­ins-Fer­nan­dez to lead coun­cil bud­get panel

Other com­mit­tee as­sign­ments se­lected

The Maui News - - FRONT PAGE - By MELISSA TANJI

Staff Writer

WAILUKU — Maui County Coun­cil fresh­man mem­ber Keani Rawl­ins-Fer­nan­dez took a key po­si­tion Fri­day as chair­woman of the Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment and Bud­get Com­mit­tee, which han­dles the nitty-gritty as­pects of the county bud­get for the coun­cil.

She takes over the com­mit­tee that had been chaired by the coun­cil’s most se­nior mem­ber, Riki Hokama.

Rawl­ins-Fer­nan­dez’s ap­point­ment was part of Fri­day’s or­ga­ni­za­tional meet­ing, at which the coun­cil set­tled on chairs, co-chairs, mem­bers and du­ties of its stand­ing com­mit­tees in its sec­ond meet­ing of the year.

Mem­bers shared vo­cally on the floor the com­mit­tees they would like to lead and on which com­mit­tees they would like to sit. Af­ter about an hour re­cess, new coun­cil Chair­woman Kelly King, who was elected in the first coun­cil meet­ing on Jan. 2, came back with pro­posed com­mit­tee as­sign­ments.

While top lead­er­ship posts did not change from King’s rec­om­men­da­tions af­ter vot­ing, there were some changes to com­mit­tee mem­ber­ships and vice chair posts. Alice Lee de­clined King’s ap­point­ment to be­come the vice chair­woman of the Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment and Bud­get Com­mit­tee. King ended up tak­ing that po­si­tion, as sug­gested by Lee.

Chair as­sign­ments for other com­mit­tees:

≤ Af­ford­able Hous­ing Com­mit­tee, Tasha Kama

≤ En­vi­ron­men­tal, Agri­cul­tural and Cul­tural Preser­va­tion Com­mit­tee, Shane Si­nenci

≤ Gov­er­nance, Ethics and Trans­parency Com­mit­tee, Michael Molina

≤ Healthy Fam­i­lies and Com­mu­ni­ties Com­mit­tee, Hokama

≤ Mul­ti­modal Trans­porta­tion Com­mit­tee, Yuki Lei Sugimura

≤ Plan­ning and Sus­tain­able Land Use Com­mit­tee, Ta­mara Paltin

≤ Water and In­fra­struc­ture Com­mit­tee, Lee

Molina’s nine-mem­ber com­mit­tee will be vet­ting Mayor Michael Vic­torino’s di­rec­tor ap­point­ments, the first time the coun­cil will have an op­por­tu­nity to con­firm all depart­ment di­rec­tors. That process could be­gin the week of Jan. 20, Molina said.

His com­mit­tee also will con­firm boards and com­mis­sion ap­point­ments and han­dle le­gal af­fairs, Molina said.

In the past decade, no leader of the bud­get com­mit­tee has been a first-year mem­ber. For­mer chairs of the chal­leng­ing com­mit­tee that vets the mayor’s bud­get and scru­ti­nizes depart­ment spend­ing have in­cluded for­mer Coun­cil Chair­men Mike White and Dain Kane, along with Joe Pon­tanilla, who held the chair be­fore hav­ing to leave the coun­cil due to term lim­its.

Lee also is a for­mer bud­get com­mit­tee chair­woman.

Rawl­ins-Fer­nan­dez, who is the coun­cil vice chair­woman, asked to be bud­get chair­woman. She pointed out that many other for­mer bud­get lead­ers, even coun­cil vet­er­ans, did not have any ex­pe­ri­ence manag­ing a $700 mil­lion to $800 mil­lion county bud­get.

She noted that she has a mas­ter’s de­gree in busi­ness ad­min­is­tra­tion and has served on boards of or­ga­ni­za­tions that man­age sev­eral mil­lions

of dol­lars of pro­grams. She also has worked in for­mer Coun­cil Mem­ber Elle Cochran’s of­fice and be­came fa­mil­iar with the county bud­get process.

“I’m not a bud­get ex­pert,” she said, adding that “I’m com­mit­ted to work­ing hard and work on (be­ing) col­lab­o­ra­tive to ev­ery­one.

“I will not do it alone any­way. I will have a com­mit­tee and a team.”

Rawl­ins-Fer­nan­dez pledged a more open bud­get process and planned to pur­chase soft­ware to al­low the pub­lic to track the bud­get.

Dur­ing his time to ad­vo­cate for a po­si­tion, Hokama, the for­mer bud­get chair­man, did not ask to be chair­man of the bud­get com­mit­tee or any com­mit­tee. He said he can ap­pre­ci­ate the new coun­cil mem­bers that have been cho­sen by the elec­torate and have the ma­jor­ity.

But he ex­tolled his ex­pe­ri­ence as a past pres­i­dent of the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Coun­ties and that he has met with and given talks to in­ter­na­tional gov­ern­ments and of­fi­cials.

With decades on the coun­cil, he said he ini­tially came in when the county’s fi­nances were “hor­ri­ble,” but has since turned them around.

“For me, I’m happy to use my ex­pe­ri­ence, my knowl­edge to as­sist this coun­cil to move for­ward,” said Hokama.

In the end, Hokama ended up chair­ing the Healthy Fam­i­lies and Com­mu­ni­ties Com­mit­tee, one that no one had asked to chair.

There was tes­ti­mony on both sides Fri­day as to who would be best to take the lead­er­ship role of the bud­get com­mit­tee.

Molokai ac­tivist Wal­ter Ritte, who tes­ti­fied by phone, sup­ported Rawl­ins-Fer­nan­dez, call­ing her a per­son with “strong and car­ing val­ues” for the peo­ple and the en­vi­ron­ment, as well as a record of help­ing those in need.

He also pointed to her ed­u­ca­tional back­ground and called her the “per­fect per­son” to chair the bud­get com­mit­tee.

For­mer county Of­fice of Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Di­rec­tor Teena Ras­mussen urged the coun­cil to place some­one with ex­pe­ri­ence in the po­si­tion, but she did not of­fer any names.

Ras­mussen noted that the county bud­get is “three-fourths of a bil­lion.” “You do not put a fresh­man coun­cil mem­ber to run that po­si­tion . . . . I urge you to give the bud­get com­mit­tee chair­man­ship to some­one who has ex­pe­ri­ence in the po­si­tion be­fore,” she said.

Ras­mussen com­pared it to pulling some­one from the side­walk to in­stantly be­come a fire­fighter and put out a fire right away.

“Not only would you be put­ting the per­son at risk, you could be put­ting the com­mu­nity at risk,” she said.

She asked that pol­i­tics be put aside in the de­ci­sion mak­ing.

Sugimura made a mo­tion for Lee to be­come bud­get chair­woman. Lee was bud­get chair­woman and coun­cil chair­woman dur­ing her ini­tial time on the coun­cil from 1989 to 1998. Lee re­quested to be­come chair­woman of the com­mit­tee.

Kama floated the idea of cochairs for the bud­get com­mit­tee. But with dis­cus­sion drag­ging on, Lee sug­gested that Sugimura’s nom­i­na­tion be taken back.

Lee said that for a large com­mit­tee hav­ing two chairs can be com­pli­cated. It could in­volve one chair try­ing to set the agenda but hav­ing to con­tin­u­ously check in with the other chair.

Melissa Tanji can be reached at [email protected]

The Maui News MELISSA TANJI photo

Fresh­man Maui County Coun­cil Mem­ber Keani Rawl­ins-Fer­nan­dez shares a mo­ment in Coun­cil Cham­bers with an au­di­ence mem­ber on Fri­day. She will lead the pow­er­ful Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment and Bud­get Com­mit­tee. Be­hind her in the photo is fel­low fresh­man Coun­cil Mem­ber Ta­mara Paltin.

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