News

Rodenhurst Out as Public Works Director

By Nathan Christophel
June 14, 2022, 10:15 AM HST
* Updated June 16, 2:14 PM
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The director of the county Department of Public Works was relieved of his duties, the mayor’s office announced Tuesday, June 14.

Ikaika Rodenhurst no longer served as DPW director as of Monday, according to a press release from the mayor’s office. Additional changes at the department include the appointment of Julann Sonomura as acting DPW Building Division chief and Neal Tanaka as acting deputy building chief.

DPW Deputy Director Steven Pause will be the primary point of contact for the department until a
new director is named, the press release said.

“We would like to thank Ikaika for his service and wish him the best in his future endeavors, as well as welcome both Julann and Neal to their new positions,” Mayor Mitch Roth said in the release. “Our administration remains committed to helping our community thrive and succeed, and through that, we will continue to work diligently to address the issues surrounding our building permitting process. We understand that our folks rely on a consistent flow of permits to keep food on their tables and roofs over their heads, and we are dedicated to ensuring that they have every opportunity to do just that.”

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As per county policy, no further comment will be made about the employment status of the individuals referenced above.

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Roth campaigned on fixing permitting issues within the department, which has been working to improve its permitting system for the last couple of years.

Hawaiʻi County Councilwoman Rebecca Villegas is confident Pause will be a capable leader for the department in the interim.

“We have a good second-in-charge that will be taking the lead in the interim,” Villegas told Big Island Now on Tuesday afternoon.

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Big Island Now reached out to the Department of Public Works on Tuesday morning, but heard nothing back from either the director or the department.

The announcement of Rodenhurst’s departure comes on the cusp of the Hawai‘i County Council taking up a measure that would create a new county department from an existing Public Works division.

Bill 174 would establish a new Department of Building. The proposed County Charter amendment, introduced by Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz, would move certain functions done by the DPW Building Division that do not pertain to county assets into the new department.

The bill’s first reading will be heard and discussed by the council during its Wednesday, June 15, regular session.

According to the proposed bill, a Department of building would manage public building construction and inspection; plans, specifications and applications for private building and construction; plumbing, electrical and building permits; enforcement of all county building, construction and inspection ordinances; process sign applications and variances; and “exercise other functions as prescribed by the mayor or prescribed by ordinance.”

Villegas has some reservations about the proposal because of the changes it will require and any repercussions they could have on a department and division that already face hardship and turmoil, especially when it comes to building permits and the building permit system.

“I would want to make sure the rewards outweigh the risks for this kind of disruption,” she said Tuesday afternoon. “The Building Department, wherever it lands, has lots of room for improvement.”

Villegas added that if changing where the services are housed could guarantee more streamlined performance and trust from the overall community, she would be all in to move it. She’s just not sure if that will be the case.

She said there’s an old saying to the effect that when you move, wherever you move, there you are. People travel or move to try to escape their issues sometimes, but wherever they are, they take those issues with them. Villegas is concerned that is the case with the proposed creation of a new Building Department.

“I’m concerned we’re creating more work than necessary by creating a new department,” she said, rather than working on the issues in the existing department and division.

Because the measure would be a change to the County Charter, Bill 174 requires three readings by the council. If all three readings are approved, the measure then would appear on the 2022 general election ballot so the county’s voters can make the final decision.

The amendment would then take effect upon its approval by voters.

Wednesday’s council meeting starts at 9 a.m. at the West Hawai‘i Civic Center in Kona.

Nathan Christophel
Nathan Christophel has more than 20 years of experience in journalism, starting out as a reporter and working his way up to become a copy editor and page designer, most recently at the Hawaii Tribune-Herald in Hilo.
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