New Hawaiʻi County Council sworn in Monday
December 6, 2022, 6:30 AM HST
The nine members of the new Hawai‘i County Council — all chosen by their communities to make the Big Island better — were sworn in Monday during the Hawai‘i County Inaugural Ceremony at the Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium in Hilo.
About 200 people attended the festive event, which was full of pomp and circumstance, with several dignitaries in the audience. They included former Hawai‘i County Mayor Harry Kim, outgoing Council members Maile David and Aaron Chung, members of the Hawai‘i Fire Department and Hawai‘i Police Department and several judges.
Third Circuit Court Judge Robert D.S. Kim administered the oath of office.
The 2022-24 Hawai‘i County Council will be led by Heather Kimball of District 1 and Holeka Inaba of District 8. They each are serving their second term. It also will have a supermajority of women, with only two of the nine seats filled by men.
Other returning members are Sue Lee Loy representing District 3, Ashley Kierkiewicz sitting in the District 4 seat, Matt Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder for District 5 and Rebecca Villegas serving as the District 7 representative.
The three new members are Cindy Evans, who represents District 9; Jenn Kagiwada, who represents District 2; and Michelle Galimba, who takes on the District 6 seat.
“The job is inundating and requires our full attention,” Hawai‘i County Mayor Mitch Roth said in his welcoming remarks.
He said being a public servant means long nights and early mornings, and when there’s an eruption happening, they can become one in the same, “but it’s worth it.”
Roth said the job of a public servant is about working to create a community where the people living in it can become better versions of themselves. It’s about having an island where their keiki can raise their own children, and those keiki can raise their keiki and so on and so forth.
Together, the job of the council is to make Hawai‘i County more prosperous, more vibrant and more equitable. That means taking on issues such as affordable housing, cost of living and so much more. It also means putting the needs of others before their own in pursuit of aloha.
“Together, we begin a new chapter in Hawai‘i County,” Roth said. “Have a great day and an even better term.”
Council Vice Chairman-elect Inaba gave his address in ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i, including an oli.
Chairwoman-elect Kimball spoke about each of her fellow Council members, returning and new, offering up their experience and expertise as individuals, only scratching the surface of the capabilities each brings to the table.
She said during the next couple of years, they will debate and won’t always see eye to eye, but they will learn from each other. The public also will see the respect they have for each other.
While each was elected by their communities on an individual basis, they are united by their desire to serve Hawai‘i County.
Galimba is excited to serve her community and be an advocate for its diverse constituency. Evans, who has previously served in the Hawai‘i House of Representatives, said she is a 12 on a scale of 1 to 10 for how excited she is to serve on the Council. Kagiwada also is excited to have a seat at the table, officially representing her district.
“Our Council brings a diverse set of individuals with unique experience together,” Inaba said last week. “This composition will allow us to do our best work for the people of Hawai‘i County.”
Evans thinks the new Council will work hard to not only respond to current events but have the long view that is needed when developing regulations. She looks forward to learning about her fellow Council members’ uniqueness, priorities and vision.
“Having a supermajority of women on the Council provides an excellent opportunity for deep collaboration and cooperation,” Kagiwada said before Monday’s ceremony.
In her ceremony address, Kimball said she was a member of Hilo’s Kamehameha Canoe Club, whose mantra is strength in unity. Paddlers are always seeking that magical moment when everyone is working together, making their united strokes more powerful than on their own.
Just like those paddlers and the kihei (traditional Hawaiian wrap) the Council members wore Monday, with each individual strand weaved together to make a strong garment, the Council members are coming together for a larger purpose.
“We will be working together to be the strong Council this County needs and deserves,” Kimball said.
The ceremony ended with everyone in attendance holding hands and swaying, including the Council members who beamed from the stage while Tani Waipa sang “Hawai‘i Aloha.”
The Council members wandered into the crowd and were greeted with lei, hugs, smiles and kind words. People also snapped photos and selfies with each of the newly sworn in public servants, offering congratulations.
About an hour after the ceremony ended, the new Council got right to work and held its first meeting. Kimball was officially gaveled in as chairwoman and Inaba is now officially the vice chairman of the legislative body. The Council also adopted rules and procedures and re-appointed Jon Henricks as county clerk.
In other business, the Council assigned chairs and vice chairs for each of its committees. The remaining members who are not leaders of a committee serve as that panel’s members.
Leading the Finance Committee will be Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder, with Evans as vice chairwoman. Evans will serve as the chairwoman for the Committee on Governmental Operations and External Affairs, with Lee Loy as vice chairwoman. Villegas will lead the Committee on Communications, Reports and Council Oversight and Kagiwada will be vice chair.
Inaba will be chairman for the Committee on Legislative Approvals and Acquisitions and Galimba will serve as vice chairwoman. Kierkiewicz will chair the Policy Committee on Planning, Land Use and Development, with Inaba being vice chairman. Leading the Policy Committee on Health, Safety and Well-Being will be Kagiwada, with Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder serving as vice chair.
Rounding out the committee assignments, Lee Loy will be chairwoman of the Policy Committee on Infrastructure and Assets while Kierkiewicz will serve as vice chair, and Galimba will lead the Policy Committee on Climate Resilience and Regenerative Agriculture while Villegas serves as vice chairwoman.
The Council also appointed Kimball as the representative to the Executive Committee of the Hawai‘i State Association of Counties and Kagiwada as alternate. Members also confirmed the appointment of Aaron Brown as deputy county clerk.
Kimball said early Monday evening that the new Council is full of people who are dedicated to their communities and are very knowledgeable; all of them have has some kind of experience in a legislative capacity as well.
Kimball was honest, saying she’s excited and terrified at the same time being the new Council chairwoman — it’s a lot of responsibility. She views the position as one of service to the rest of the Council, looking at her role as chairwoman as one of support for her fellow Council members, lifting them up and providing them with what they need to serve the Big Island.
“It is certainly an honor,” Kimball said, “but I think going forward we have a lot of wonderful, talented people and I’m just really excited to see them do their work and be effective.”