Community Questions Governor Appointee
Senators hear what community has to say about newly appointed Director of Planning.
Molokai transplant Abbey Mayer said he has the right qualifications to be the director of the Office of Planning, but he still needs to convince State senators.
By Jennifer Smith
The credentials of the newly appointed Director of the Office of Planning (OP) came under heavy scrutiny during a Senate confirmation hearing last week Wednesday on Molokai. Senators Clayton Hee and Kalani English traveled to the Friendly Isle to hear testimony from community members who were unable to attend the Senate confirmation hearing held the previous week in Honolulu. Nearly 100 people attended the event at Kulana `Oiwi Halau.
Mayer moved to Molokai from the East Coast in 2004. “If anyone would know him it would be the people on this island," said Hee. The senator explained that multiple hearings on the appointee’s credentials would not have been necessary if Mayer was highly qualified.
“When I look at his qualifications I think there is reason to be concerned,” Molokai Community Service Council Director Karen Holt said.
Over two-thirds of the testimony opposed the appointment.
“As a ship carpenter and a foreman of a boat yard, does this qualify him to carry out the responsibilities of Coastal and Ocean policy management for State of Hawaii?” Molokai resident Julie Lopez asked in written testimony.
Other testimonies citing a lack of experience on Mayer’s resume said an art degree from Yale, two years writing an unpublished novel, and no more than a couple of years in any given position were not enough to justify his appointment to the OP.
Supporters of Mayer referenced his accomplishments on the Molokai Livestock Cooperative and Enterprise Community (EC).
“Mr. Mayer has operated with dedicated professionalism,” EC board president Stacy Crivello said.
Former work associate of Mayer at the EC, Zhantell Dudoit, said she fully supports him and is confident in his abilities.
Additional Mayer supporters included his Aikido student Dick Wheeler, Na Pu`uwai Executive Director Billy Akutagawa, Monsanto General Manager Ray Foster, and his wife Rose Mayer.
Mrs. Mayer said her husband was qualified for the job and committed to the people of Hawaii. He has “worked tirelessly in the midst of controversy.”
The EC, a federally funded non-profit which Mayer directed for the past two years, has attracted considerable criticism from the Molokai community for supporting the proposed La`au Point Development.
“Governor Lingle pretty much presents Abbey with the key to La`au Point,” Enterprise Community (EC) board member Bridget Mowat said.
Governor Lingle and Mayer claim to stand against further reliance on a land-development based economy. “I think crucial to rural places is the preservation of agricultural lands,” Mayer said. However, both have publicly endorsed the reclassification and development of 613 acres of agricultural land in the conservation district of La`au Point on Molokai.
“I cannot figure out what is going on,” cultural rights advocate Walter Ritte said, explaining that the appointment “is not about what you know, it is about who you know.”
“This is how the government fills their closets with political puppets,” Homesteader Martin Kahae said, claiming that political agendas were at play with Mayer’s appointment.
Holt said Mayer’s support of the proposed La`au Point development would violate “almost every point of good planning principles.”
Urban sprawl, lack of water, energy consumption, and the protection of wildlife habitats were among the many unresolved issues Holt found with the proposed development. “I want the top planner for the state of Hawaii to care about that,” Holt said.
After nearly four hours of public testimony, the senators took turns questioning Mayer’s vision, priorities, and views of sustainability and affordable housing.
To remedy the effect of real state speculation on affordable housing, Mayer said proposed developments should contain a mandatory construction of 30-50 percent of affordable housing. For the 200 proposed La`au Point lots, Mayer agreed that 60-100 affordable homes ($200,000-$300,000 by his standard) should be built.
Sen. English was critical of Mayer’s inability to provide innovative ideas for issues facing the OP.
“People are no longer satisfied with development,” and they are no longer willing to fund tourism, said Sen. English. A Director of Planning must consider the effect developments have on community members’ quality of life, he added.
The senator said on islands like Molokai, productivity and happiness levels should be considered in planning models.
“I regret that I don’t have all of the answers statewide going in,” Mayer said in a response about the status of Big Island planning. “My best answer is that I learn quickly,” he said, adding that he has an extremely experienced staff to support him.
Mayer said he is confident he meets the qualifications for the position. “The Lingle administration was particularly impressed with my ability to form partnerships during my work with the EC… I think I am an accomplished administrator.”
Mayer refuted allegations that his official support of the La`au Point development would present a conflict of interest, adding that he has initiated discussions with both the Attorney General’s office and ethics committee to verify this.
Despite his enthusiasm for the appointment, Mayer’s inability to answer job-specific questions left the senators uneasy with the appointment.
“I haven’t been able to see you think as a director,” Sen. English said, adding that he wanted to know more about Mayer’s vision and plans for the Department of Planning.
"I think he really wants the job," Sen. Hee said. However, he explained that desire was not enough and that the position requires more than “on the job training.”
When asked where 282,000 people should live, the Director of Planning should have the answer, even if people disagree with it, Sen. Hee said.
Sen. Hee expected a vote to take place within a month, and said there is a 50 percent chance of an additional hearing.