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Rejected Leeward Planning Commission nominee files ethics complaint against council members

A rejected nominee to the Leeward Planning Commission has filed an ethics complaint against four of the five council members who voted not to confirm her, claiming they discriminated against her because she’s a real estate professional.

Dana Asis, who has lived on the island for nine years, managed the office of Kukio Properties and later sold property at one of the Kona coast’s newest luxury projects, Kohanaiki.

She left the tech industry in her native Orange County, California, to move to the Big Island and has volunteered in the emergency department at North Hawaii Community Hospital since 2014. She also serves as a mentor with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and as a patient advocate for the Veterans Affairs Hospital.

Five council members — North Kona Councilman Holeka Inaba, Kona Councilwoman Rebecca Villegas, South Kona/Ka‘u Councilwoman Maile David, Hamakua Councilwoman Heather Kimball and Puna Councilman Matt Kanealii-Kleinfelder — rejected Asis’ appointment in April. Asis filed an ethics complaint against all but Kimball.

Eight council members, with David absent, had voted favorably on Asis’ nomination at the Planning Committee. Planning Committee Chairwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz had told Asis she wasn’t required to appear at the council meeting for the official vote, an instruction commonly given to nominees when there’s no opposition at the committee level.

Asis said she didn’t attend the council meeting and this deprived her of the opportunity to speak for herself. She didn’t include Kierkiewicz in her ethics charges, however.

Dissenting council members said their no vote stemmed from a concern that the commission, charged with scrutinizing rezoning and land use applications, was stacked too heavily with developers, leaving little voice for those more attuned to environmental, historical and cultural issues.

Asis said the council members violated the fair treatment clauses of the county ethics code, in addition to several provisions of the county charter, including one that says no one can be barred from serving on a board or commission based solely on their occupation. She also asked that David be removed as council chairman, an action outside the Board of Ethics’ jurisdiction.

“To be blunt, the rejection of my nomination had nothing to do with my merit, qualification or ability to objectively serve my community. It was based on an unfair, narrow-focused manner that didn’t provide for due process,” Asis said in her seven-page petition to the ethics board. “In a day and age where discrimination is so critically viewed, to have the Council Chair and other council members so blatantly discriminate against me based on occupation alone, and in such a contemptuous manner for the County Charter and Code of Ethics, is nothing shy of a tragic blow to our community.”

Mayor Mitch Roth, who had called the council action “retaliation” over his attempt to have Leeward Planning Commissioner Mark Pernis removed in an unrelated action, had attempted to get the council to reconsider its rejection, but his request for another confirmation vote was not put on a council agenda.

The four council members appeared Wednesday before the Board of Ethics, but the board postponed action until its Sept. 13 meeting, as Asis couldn’t attend because of a family emergency on the mainland.

Inaba said Asis should have been at the April council meeting. Constituents expressed concerns between the committee hearing and the council meeting, leading them to change their votes, the council members said.

“Ms. Asis made a decision not to appear and as a result I wasn’t able to ask her questions,” he said. “She chose not to appear and not to answer our questions.”

David pointed to the state Senate’s recent rejection of a qualified white male for the Intermediate Court of Appeals, with senators saying there needed to be more diversity on the judicial panel. Gov. David Ige subsequently nominated a woman of Native Hawaiian ancestry. That Senate action, just like the council’s action, was well within the legislative body’s authority, she said.

David said the Leeward Planning Commission needs more of a balance to represent community concerns, in particular someone with an “understanding of the unique culture and natural resources” of the region. The charter provides that members of the county’s many boards and commissions are appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the council.

“The council acted and performed is duties under the law,” David said.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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