Last week, the Maui County Council convened for what was supposed to be the conclusion of the confirmation process for Mayor Mike Victorino’s first round of nominees to head county departments. After almost 70 testifiers showed up in Council Chambers to testify on Feb. 15, time ran out for the councilmembers to cast their final votes on Victorino’s nominees, delaying decision making to a Feb. 22 meeting. Despite the anticlimactic closure to the day-long meeting, there were a few notes that are worth revisiting. Here are three that reveal divisions within Maui’s community that will play out in time to come.
Deputy Prosecutors Defend John D. Kim
The Jan. 30 meeting of the Government, Ethics, and Transparency Committee resulted in a 5-4 vote for the disapproval of J.D. Kim to serve as prosecutor and set the stage for conflict. When the council met on Feb. 15 to officially pass the disapproval resolution, supporters of Kim from the prosecutor’s office showed up in numbers to dispute the claims made at the committee meeting and heap praise upon their boss.
“Our opinion on the matter of J.D. Kim as the prosecutor is based on first-hand experience and expertise in the area of law enforcement, not on one-sided opinion, conjecture, and rumor from undisclosed, anonymous sources, which is what your committee appears to be making its decisions on,” said Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Joanne Hicks.
After crediting Kim for his leadership, she took aim at councilmembers. “Right now your council is the reason for distraction and lowered morale at the office. None of you are licenced practicing attorneys, and none of you have done the tough work that our wonderful staff do. None of you work at my office. Some of you are inexperienced, new councilmembers who have been on the job for just a few months.”
“If something was actually a serious concern to you, then you have the duty to perform your due diligence as a councilmember and follow through,” she added, addressing allegations of misconduct from the public. “Instead, every single time the option of executive [off-the-record] session was raised for any of you, all of you declined and in my opinion none of you were doing your due diligence in conducting a proper hearing.”
Some of these allegations came from individuals involved in litigation, which is why executive session was suggested. Kimberlyn Scott, whose daughter Charli was the victim in a high-profile murder case, was one such opponent of J.D. Kim.
“The things that J.D. Kim has done are egregious, they are beyond the pale, they should not be tolerated,” she told the council. “I love that there’s a whole bunch of attorneys here testifying in favor of J.D. Kim. I want to point out I haven’t seen one other victim, and that is a huge demographic that he deals with on a daily basis. He makes decisions that affect our lives permanently.”
Councilmember Keani Rawlins-Fernandez Gets Blamed for Reinforcing Gender Stereotypes
During a Feb. 7 GET Committee meeting, Councilmember Rawlins-Fernandez issued a stunning rebuke of acting Public Works Director David Goode.
“If I am brought to tears today it will because it will be for the unforgivable and irreparable harm you have brought to Maui over your time and under your watch,” she said, voice quivering. “If I cry it will be for the iwi kupuna [ancestral bones] that you have allowed to be violated, for ‘Iao that you allowed to be raped of its mana, reducing sacred pohaku [stones] to material rubble, [for] the blind eye that you turn while development projects were allowed to destroy the ancient walls of my people, to level heiau [shrines] and previously protected sites. Auwe!”
It was a powerful moment, but one that didn’t go over well with Madge Schaefer, a member of Mayor Victorino’s screening committee who showed up on Feb. 15 to testify in support of all the mayor’s nominees.
“I watched David Goode being blamed for the desecration in a very emotional way,” she said. “As an elected official from long ago when women were not common as elected officials, the stereotype was that women were too emotional to be in leadership positions. That stereotype got reinforced.”
Of course, these comments didn’t go over well either, and as of Feb. 19 a petition urging Victorino to “immediately remove Madge Schaefer from your committee and that she issue a public apology to our community and the Maui County Council” reached 416 signatures. The petition accuses Shaefer of “launching a blatantly sexist attack against Councilmember Keani Rawlins-Fernandez, and all women in positions of leadership throughout Maui County… Her hateful comments taint the process and promote a hostile work environment for women.”
Attorney William Sloper Denounces a Loud, Local Minority
At one point in his testimony in support of acting Corporation Counsel Patrick Wong and acting Prosecutor J.D. Kim, attorney William Sloper rhetorically asked why he was there at all. That wasn’t a good sign. The attorney, who’s worked professionally with Kim and Wong for years, quickly praised the nominees before spinning into criticism of their disapproval by the council.
“Unfortunately what we have here on Maui is a very loud, vocal minority of individuals who insist that things be done their way,” Sloper said. “I’m confident that members of this body are going to hear from that very local, minority, loud individuals when you folks make decisions that they disagree with. Just because someone speaks the loudest does not make their decision the best.”
Sloper doubled down: “All I could take away [from the hearing of Pat Wong] was the foolishness of member [Tamara] Paltin asking Mr. Wong about the illegal occupation of the United States here in Hawai‘i.”
These comments sparked a response from another testifier, Noelani Ahia, who approached the stand quietly and opened, “I’m gonna whisper so my native humanity doesn’t offend any settlers who are offended by a loud, local minority.”
“Why are we the minority?” she asked, speech now rising to a passionate and assertive tone. “Because in 1893 our queen was illegally overthrown. There is a permanent, still-going, military occupation which is illegal under international law. We have been dispossessed from our land, we have been forced to assimilate, and we have been recognized by the United Nations as being affected by the genocide of the United States of America.”
“Can you see how as native people we are treated in our own community by white men in suits?” she added, to applause from the audience.
Sloper’s comments also drew criticism on social media, where a campaign has mounted to organize a “Silent Protest by The Loud Local Minority” in Council Chambers on Feb. 22.
Feb. 15 was a day of disagreement among the community in attendance, and on Feb. 22 councilmembers will have to revisit these divisions as they cast their final votes for this round of appointees. Near the closing of one of the GET committee confirmation hearings, Councilmember Mike Molina shared words that seem especially poignant in divisive times like these.
“How do we interpret the people or the County of Maui, when you hear things where people say, ‘We have to do this for the people,’” Molina posed. “Well you have to ask yourself, what people are we talking about? Do we speak as a whole, the whole County of Maui, or do we speak only of a subsection of our community? That’s a matter that will be constantly trying to be interpreted. It’s not easy.”
It’s not an easy question, indeed. But in times like these, the questions of who are “We, the people” and who has representation are more important than ever.
Photos of JD Kim and David Goode courtesy County of Maui