East Hawaii News

Council Confirms Nominations of Kanuha, Leithead-Todd

July 10, 2013, 6:47 PM HST
* Updated July 11, 8:50 AM
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The Hawaii County Council today voted to approve two new members for Mayor Billy Kenoi’s cabinet, but not before a serious discussion of semantics.

The council first took up Kenoi’s naming of Duane Kanuha as director of the Planning Department.

Kanuha, who served as planning director from 1988 to 1990, and as deputy planning director from 1977 to 1984, was confirmed on a 7-1 vote.

He is replacing Bobby Jean Leithead-Todd, who has held the planning director position since April 2009 but was recently named by Kenoi to take over the Department of Environmental Management.

Citing Kanuha’s many years of work for Surety Kohala Corp. and other private companies, Councilwoman Brenda Ford told Kanuha that she planned to vote against his nomination.

“I am really concerned about your ties to the development industry,” Ford said.

Duane Kanuha, following his confirmation as county planning director. Photo by Dave Smith.

Duane Kanuha, following his confirmation as county planning director. Photo by Dave Smith.

Kanuha noted that in addition to his years with the county, he also served as a member of the state Land Use Commission from 2005 to 2011, and as its chairman from 2008 to 2009. Kanuha, who began his duties on June 3, told Ford that he considers the county’s interests his top priority.

Councilman Dru Kanuha told his fellow council members that he planned to abstain from voting because he shared the same last name as the nominee and it is possible the two could be related.

The nomination of Leithead-Todd as director of Environmental Management  – a position she held for a 19-month period ending in December 2008 – was far more controversial.

Much of the public testimony and ensuing discussion focused on changes to the County Charter’s requirements for the position enacted by voters in 2010. At that time the job description was amended to require the DEM director to have “a minimum of five years of administrative experience in a related field and an engineering degree or a degree in a related field.”

It was the “related field” part of the degree requirement that generated the controversy.

Some members of the public testified that they didn’t believe Leithead-Todd’s law degree met the standard.

“It would be a slap to the face to the 40,209 Hawaii Island voters who approved the charter amendment,” said Kona resident Cheryl King.

A variety of former county officials and employees testified in favor of Leithead-Todd’s nomination.

Bobby Jean Leithead-Todd. Photo by Dave Smith.

Bobby Jean Leithead-Todd. Photo by Dave Smith.

Ford argued that Leithead-Todd not only didn’t meet the degree requirement, but also said that she didn’t have the requisite five years administrative experience.

Ford also took exception to a legal opinion from Corporation Counsel Lincoln Ashida which examined discussion of the matter from minutes of meetings in 2009 and 2010 by the Charter Commission.

Those discussions showed that the commissioners also wrestled with how to define “related,” and Ashida’s opinion concluded that their intent was to leave that task to council members during the confirmation process.

Some council members said that the wording in the charter was too ambiguous. Councilman Kanuha said that he could see valid arguments either way.

Kenoi told council members that Leithead-Todd was a proven administrator and that he believed the charter did not exclude her from serving.

The final vote was 6-3 in favor of confirming Leithead-Todd.

Those voting against confirmation were Ford and council members Margaret Wille and Karen Eoff.

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