Maui County Council Chairperson Mike White has begun making aggressive moves against the Office of Council Services (OCS), asserting his authority as chair to place various staffers on paid leave, as well as replace Director David Raatz, MauiTime has learned. White’s moves, made just a week before Christmas, has left those still at the office uncertain whether they’ll have jobs come Jan. 2, 2017, when the new County Council is sworn in.
On Friday, Dec. 16, White sent a two-page memo outlining his reasoning and authority to the councilmembers-elect and naming his preferred successor to Raatz. That memo, which we obtained, is both vague and disingenuous (click here to read the memo). Four days later, during a series of meetings held on Tuesday, Dec. 20, White placed two OCS staffers–Sharon Brooks and Ross Izumigawa–on “paid administrative leave.”
It’s unclear under what authority allowed White to remove the staffers from OCS, who are legally full-time employees of the entire County Council (White’s office didn’t return a phone message left on Dec. 22 asking for comment for this story). While Rule 6A(2) of the Rules of the Council gives the chairperson the right to appoint employees of the council, it also stipulates that the the Council as a whole must approve any full-time employee appointments. In any case, sources on the 8th floor of the County building said that both staffers were escorted out of the building after being told they were being placed on leave.
“With no reason or warning to the employees or to the other OCS staff members, it is safe to say everyone is very shaken up,” one county employee familiar with the OCS shakeup told me. “Morale is low on the 7th and 8th floors.”
The importance of the OCS–and the need for it to operate independently of political influence–can’t be overstated. “The Office of Council Services provides administrative services to the Council Chair, the councilmembers’ individual offices, and the council’s district offices,” states the OCS website. “In the county’s legislative process, the role of the Office of Council Services is to staff the county council’s committees and subcommittees, and provide objective assistance to individual councilmembers.”
But for reasons that aren’t clearly articulated in his memo, White is clearly unhappy with the OCS–and especially Raatz. This is troubling because Raatz has a reputation in the county for being an honest stickler for ethics.
“I’ve known him for years,” said longtime Maui activist Lucienne de Naie. “I was really happy to see him appointed head of Council Services. He’s an attorney, and I’ve never seen him take sides. He’s the consummate public servant, very professional and a really smart guy.”
As it is, the portion of the memo detailing White’s problems with the OCS is just ambiguous doubletalk:
“After a thorough operational review of the Office of Council Services (“OCS”), along with obtaining feedback and input from members on the operations of OCS, it has become clear that operational change is both needed and desired,” White wrote in his memo. “A high level of member services with an attention to detail is the most important role of OCS and I believe this mission can be enhanced through new leadership in staffing.”
High level of member services? New leadership in staffing? What does all that even mean?
In any case, White says in the memo that he wants Sandy Baz, most recently Mayor Alan Arakawa’s budget director, to take Raatz’s place. On Dec. 2, White asked that the County Council immediately approve Baz as a “temporary” addition to the OCS staff, even though usual appointments there require lengthy interviews and an entrance test. Though Councilmember Guzman vehemently disagreed, saying there was no reason to dispense with the usual hiring procedures, the council approved Baz’s employment.
At that hearing, Councilmember Riki Hokama both approved Baz’s appointment and attacked the OCS. “I’m not so much tied into the hiring process that I feel doesn’t serve the pleasure of the members,” Hokama said. “So, I say that because I want to be clear with our current employees, too: you’re only guaranteed until January 1. Don’t make assumptions you’ll be here on January 2nd… And I’ll be upfront: I am not a happy member.”
In his Dec. 16 memo, White said that “Currently, he [Baz] serves in the position of Supervising Legislative Analyst in OCS,” but he didn’t mention that Baz had only held that title for two weeks when he issued the memo. White added that Baz “brings a unique perspective and a collaborative approach in his management style that I believe will be beneficial.”
White’s memo also states that he would like the Council to approve Gregory Garneau to be the new OCS Supervising Legislative Attorney, saying that he “believe[s] he will compliment Mr. Baz’s vision for OCS.”
But most disturbing of all, the memo also includes this curious statement about Raatz: “I would also like to announce the departure of David Raatz,” White wrote. “He was asked to remain with the office, as his institutional and legal knowledge have been impeccable, but he has decided to pursue other opportunities.”
Though Raatz would not comment for this story, White’s characterization of Raatz’s agreeing to exit his job appears to be untrue. In fact, two employees on the 8th floor of the County building told me that Raatz never agreed to leave, has no other job lined up and intends to show up for work on Jan. 2 with every expectation of continuing to work at OCS.
Though Raatz is still OCS Director (at least until Jan. 2), two county employees familiar with the staff shakeup said that on Friday, Dec. 23, White and Baz convened an OCS staff meeting in the County’s Corporation Counsel office.
In an unrelated matter, earlier this month Mark Sheehan of the SHAKA Movement filed an ethics complaint against White with the Board of Ethics, alleging that White abused his authority by issuing a press release “declaring unequivocally that the Maui County Council had organized for the upcoming term and that he will again serve as Chair for the next council session” (the full Council has to vote on who gets to be Chairperson and Vice Chairperson at their first meeting on Jan. 2). White has denied that he did anything unethical, and the Board of Ethics is expected to hear the complaint on Jan. 11.
Photo of Mike White courtesy County of Maui