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Mike Molina was selected to chair the Governance, Ethics and Transparency Committee (formerly the Committee of the Whole); Keani Rawlins Fernandez will head the Economic Development and Budget Committee. S. Halas photo.

Rawlins-Fernandez & Molina Snare Top Spots as Council Names Committee Chairs

Though attendance was sparse, it was quite a day at the Maui County Council’s January 11th meeting. Organizing of the legislative body continued as committee assignments were handed out for the council’s eight standing committees. Snaring the top spots were freshman Keani Rawlins-Fernandez who was selected to chair Economic Development & Budget Committee, while Mike Molina was picked to head Governance, Ethics and Transparency (formerly called Committee of the Whole). Rawlins-Fenandez was also named Vice-Chair of Governance.  All nine council members are voting members of these two committees.

Economic Development and Budget (Formerly Budget & Finance)
Keani. Rawlins-Fernandez, Chair
Kelly King Vice-Chair
Members: Riki Hokama, Tasha Kama, Kelly King, Michael Molina, Tamara Paltin, Shane Sinenci, Yuki Lei Sugimura.

Governance, Ethics, and Transparency (GET) (formerly Committee of the Whole)
Michael J. Molina, Chair
Keani Rawlins-Fernandez, Vice-Chair
Members: Riki Hokama,Tasha Kama, Kelly King, Alice Lee,Tamara Paltin, Shane Sinenci, Yuki Lei Sugimura.

The other six committees have seven voting members each. All members can attend meetings of these committees but only voting members count toward a quorum. A brief synopsis of the matters taken up by the individual committees is included. For a full list see Council document 19-5.

Affordable Housing
Tasha Kama, Chair
Michael Molina, Vice-Chair
Members: Riki Hokama, Alice Lee, Keani Rawlins-Femandez, Shane Sinenci, Yuki Lei Sugimura.

Includes affordable or residential workforce housing programs, and amendments, homeless programs and related matters, proposals for increasing availability or affordability of housing. Operations and performance audits of the Department of Housing and Human Concerns-Housing Division including oversight of any grants it administers.

Agricultural, Cultural Preservation, Environmental (ACE)
Shane M. Sinenci, Chair
Tasha Kama, Vice-Chair
Members: Kelly King, Alice Lee, Michael Molina, Tamara Paltin, Yuki Lei Sugimura

Issues relating to protection preservation and enhancement of the environment including recycling; conservation and protection of agricultural lands, promotion of diversified agriculture and increasing agricultural self sufficiency. This committee also deals with energy issues and energy efficient technologies. The committee reviews operations and performance audits of the Department of Environmental management-Environmental Protection and Sustainability division including the operation of any grants it administers.

Healthy Families and Communities
Riki Hokama, Chair
Yuki Lei K. Sugimura, Vice-Chair
Members: Tasha Kama, Kelly King, Michael J. Molina,Tamara Paltin, Keani. Rawlins-Fernandez.

Cultural, leisure, recreational and parks matters. Social services and animal management programs and related grants. Management and potential acquisition of public recreational lands including parks, open space and natural and cultural resources. It authorizes concessions at and permits for events and activities conducted at the county’s public parks and facilities.

Multimodal Transportation Committee
Yuki Lei K. Sugimura, Chair
Riki Hokama, Vice-Chair

Members: Tasha Kama, Kelly King, Alice. Lee,Tamara Paltin, Shane Sinenci.

Issues related to traffic safety, transit, bikeways, walkways and complete streets. Issues related to inter-island transportation within the county and State. It also deals with traffic impact fees, amendments to the parking code and oversees operation and performance audits of the Dept. of Transportation and the Maui Metro Planning organization including oversight of any grants they administer.

Planning and Sustainable Land Use
Tamara Paltin, Chair
Shane M. Sinenci, Vice-Chair
Members: Kelly King, Alice. Lee, Michael Molina, Keani. Rawlins-Fernandez, Yuki Lei Sugimura.

Project-specific amendments of state land use district boundaries, the General Plan, community plans and zoning designations (except district boundary amendments). Other land use entitlements requiring Council review. Processing procedures for the General Plan, appointments to community plan advisory committees and a variety of other related functions.

Water and Infrastructure
Alice L. Lee, Chair
Tamara Paltin, Vice-Chair
Members: Riki Hokama, Tasha Kama, Michael Molina, Keani Rawlins-Fernandez, Shane Sinenci.

Amendments to and enforcement of the County Water Code, including Water Use and Development Plan; Amendments to the Subdivision Ordinance and Building and Construction Codes; County facilities construction and maintenance (including road, bridge, drainage and waste management systems). It reviews operations and performance audits of the Department of Environmental management (except the Environmental Protection and Sustainability Division) the Department of Public Works and the Department of Water Supply including the operational oversight of any grants they administer.

To arrive at this roster quite a bit of swapping and horse trading went as various members requested to be taken off one committee and placed on another.

The selection of Rawlins-Fernandez for the top spot on the powerful budget committee took the longest, with Alice Lee asking to withdraw from her initial post as Vice Chair.

It was then proposed that the two women be co-chairs, and the leadership of the money job was finally decided when Council Chair King accepted the Vice Chair of Budget, but not before Molina and Sugimura both made clear (both in a tactful and diplomatic way) that they thought a more experienced legislator might be a better choice for such a complex and challenging assignment.

It also became clear as the day went along and other matters were discussed that the 5-4 majority might be a floating commodity with member Kama as the swing vote.

When in separate business the council was required to pick one of its members to sit on the Kula Agricultural Park committee, Sinenci was nominated for the spot and gave a number of reasons why the selection should take a broader view than just Kula. The spot has traditionally gone to the member representing the Upcountry area, who in this case is Sugimura. Sugimura made it clear that she wanted it and when the vote was taken it was Kama’s “Yes” that secured the spot for her. (5 to 4)

Even with only two meetings under their belt it’s clear that this is not going to be a business as usual group. For one thing Sugimura and Kama have adjacent offices and seem to be developing a warm friendship with each other as Sugimura helps Kama understand the duties of a council member and Kama occasionally bursts into song. Though their politics don’t seem cut from the same cloth, on a personal level they both have taken the opportunity to speak highly of each other.


Not only did Keani Rawlins-Fernandez snare the top spot on the money committee, it was her birthday too. The 30-something Freshman legislator is shown here blowing out the candles and sharing a personal moment with members of the Council Services staff during a recess. Members of the press were also included in the festivities. S. Halas photo

One of the more interesting ideas put forward in the afternoon was the “extreme makeover” of Council chambers proposed by Chairman King. She suggested that the Council chairs should be turned around to face the gallery and that the Chair’s podium, which currently sits high above the other members, be lowered so that they would all be on the same level. King pointed out that Maui was the only Council in the state where the members sat with their backs to the public. She urged the changes to make the the Council chambers as welcoming and open as possible and to suggest that no one member was more important than any other.

Though it did not seem like a complicated idea to change the direction the desks faced, the idea met with various objections ranging from costs, to how it would affect the video done by AKAKU – the community cable station that broadcasts council meetings.

In the end the matter was referred to committee for further consideration, but not before Kama piped up emphatically saying she had asked for a seat at the very end of the row of chairs so she could easily turn around and face the gallery. “I want them (the public) to see my face. To see we struggle to make these decisions. To know at least we are looking at each other.”

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About Susan Halas

Susan Halas is a Senior Political Contributor at MAUIWatch. She has followed Hawaii politics since 1976 when she moved to the Valley Isle. She was formerly a staff writer for the Maui News as well as other local print and digital publications.

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