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Mayor-Elect Appoints First Members of Cabinet

November 18, 2020, 2:54 PM HST
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A new administration is moving into the Hawai‘i County Building next month, but some of the faces and names are familiar ones

Mayor-Elect Mitch Roth on Wednesday released the first handful of cabinet appointees for his inaugural term, which begins Dec. 7.  At the top of that list is Lee Lord, PhD, of Volcano, the long-time business manager at the Prosecutor’s Office, who will serve as managing director, essentially the mayor’s right hand. Lord will function as the acting mayor when Roth is out of town.

“I’m elated with the team that we’ve selected,” said Mayor-elect Roth. “My team and I talked to so many incredibly qualified applicants, but these are the best and the brightest, and we’ll be well prepared to take on the difficult challenges that lie ahead.”

Roth tapped Bobby Command of Captain Cook to act as his deputy managing director and senior policy advisor. Command held the same position during the final year of the Kenoi Administration.

“Our cabinet members will be working all over the island,” Mayor-elect Roth said. “The desire of the people to have high-level staff on both sides of the island was loud and clear during the campaign and we intend to fulfill it.”

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Other cabinet members announced Wednesday are Finance Director Deanna Sako of Kea‘au and Parks and Recreation Director Maurice Messina of Mountain View, both of whom will be holdovers from the current administration. Messina served as second in command at the Parks Department before moving into the mayor’s office as an executive assistant and then as chief of staff. Sako is serving in the same position under Roth as she did under current Mayor Harry Kim.

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Roth named Elizabeth Strance of Kailua-Kona as Corporation Counsel, and also selected Information Technology Director Scott Uehara of Hilo and Housing Administrator Susan K. Kunz of Hilo to his cabinet.

Lord, who holds several degrees in business administration and a doctorate in psychology, has almost three decades of experience in the County of Hawai‘i and in a variety of non-profit human services organizations. He was also a Division Manager in the Finance Department, executive director of Turning Point For Families, Inc., and administrator for Child and Family Service.

Command, who will work out of the West Hawai‘i Civic Center, is a former executive assistant to Mayor Billy Kenoi and led the efforts to build the Ane Keohokalole Highway. A former journalist with more than 25 years of experience at West Hawai‘i Today, he was also deputy Planning Director for nearly three years. Born in Honolulu, Command has a degree in journalism from the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa.

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Selected to be the lead attorney for the county is Strance, a former Third Circuit Judge in Kona for a decade. Currently in private practice, Strance is a graduate of Willamette University in Oregon where she earned a degree in Public Policy and Political Science. She received her law degree at Lewis and Clark College in Portland.

Sako, a familiar name at the county building, has served as Finance Director for both the Kenoi and Kim Administrations. Most recently, she became Finance Director in October 2017. She started in the county as a Parks and Recreation accountant. A graduate of Moloka‘i High and Intermediate School, she has a degree in Computer Science and Accounting from Wartburg College and a master’s in accounting science from the University of Illinois.

Messina is the current chief of staff in the Office of the Mayor. He was an integral member of the county team that responded to the COVID-19 crisis. He was the deputy director in Parks and Recreation for two years and is a combat veteran of the US Navy. Messina, who started his county career in the prosecutor’s office, holds a degree in criminal justice, naval criminal justice, and is a certified paralegal.

Uehara has been the information systems analyst for the Hawai‘i Police Department since 2012. Prior to that he was an information technology specialist with the HFS Credit Union in Hilo, an IT specialist at Schofield Barracks in Honolulu with the US Military, Directorate of Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation, and provided similar services to Kīlauea Military Camp and Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. He has a degree in computer science from the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo.

Kunz is the current executive director of the Big Island Housing Foundation, where she manages six affordable projects comprising 251 units. Another veteran of the Kenoi Administration, Kunz was the administrator for the Office of Housing and Community Development as well as the deputy. She has served in other capacities at OHCD as well. She has a degree in business administration from the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Wash.

The directors for Planning, Research and Development, Public Works, and Environmental Management will be announced in the coming days.

The managing director, corporation counsel, and department heads are appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the County Council.

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