In an end-of-the-year County Council shakeup, Councilmember Alice Lee (Wailuku) was voted in as council chair on Dec. 27, replacing previous chair Kelly King. Testifiers at the special council meeting offered their support for King, and pleaded for transparency regarding the change in leadership which came to many as a surprise.
“I felt like a deer caught in the headlights when I heard that Kelly might be stepping down as the chair of this council, and like the rest I would like to know why this has happened,” said Phyllis Robinson, echoing the sentiment of previous testimony. “I so admire Kelly’s leadership. She’s gotten so much done in the short amount of time, and I know it was with all of you. So tell me and tell us: What is it that took place? I wish you could all work it out. I want Kelly as our chair.”
On Dec. 20, King announced that she would step down in order to take leadership of the Climate Action and Resiliency Committee, and Lee would take her place as council chair. At the time, there was no official, on-the-record vote regarding the creation of the new committee or the restructuring of council leadership, causing confusion, speculation, and rumor regarding the “real” reason for shakeup and possible “backroom” deals.
What’s more, Lee has opposed King regarding important legislation over the year such as the settlement of the Lahaina Injection Wells lawsuit and retainment of a special counsel to represent the County Council in its ongoing power struggle with Mayor Victorino. The appointment of a chair with differing politics added further questions to the motivations behind the leadership change.
“What it feels like to We the People is this is a mutiny that’s going on,” testified Bruce Douglas, a local activist who’s been involved in the GMO Moratorium, Community Farmland Initiative, and Maui Pono Network. “This is a behind-the-scene collusion, a total violation of the Sunshine Law. There’s been backdoor dealings, backdoor talkings, hands twisted, and all sorts of other things going on in the back rooms,” he added to applause from the gallery.
Before the vote to elect Lee as Council Chair went down, Lee and King added final thoughts about the transition.
“For myself, I understand a lot more than probably what the public understands about what’s going on behind the scenes, and I accept that the majority of this council has made these decisions,” said King. “I’m hoping that you won’t take this personally, Councilmember Lee, but I have a really hard time thinking about voting for somebody to lead this council who has not supported this council’s vote on the Hawaii Wildlife et al versus County of Maui case [regarding the Lahaina Injection Wells] and I would hope that we would have a chair who would fight for us.
“Even if you don’t agree with us, you would see that the majority of the vote is the voice of the council and you would have supported us getting clarity. I have a lot of issues with those on this council who abdicate our authority to the mayor. So I won’t be voting in favor of you [Lee] but I understand you have the votes and I will pledge to work with you as the chair.”
“I accept that, chair. You and I disagree on a variety of issues. But what I think that I bring to the table is a collaborative style of leadership,” responded Lee. “As far as issues are concerned, we will always disagree. But I think my management style is more unifying.”
“That is your opinion, but I’ll accept it,” King shot back. “I think my relationship with our staff speaks for itself.”
Councilmembers voted 7-2 to elect Alice Lee as chair, effective Jan. 2, 2020. King and Councilmember Shane Sinenci voted No.
In the aftermath Monday, King posted a quote from Eckhart Tolle on her official councilmember Facebook page: “Sometimes letting things go is an act of far greater power than defending or hanging on.”
Time will tell…