Senators hear praise for Koller at hearing
Lillian Koller faced no public opposition yesterday as a Senate panel began considering her nomination for another four-year term as head of the Department of Human Services.
The Senate Human Services and Public Housing Committee heard only support of Koller in six hours of testimony.
There had been speculation that Koller might be in for a tougher hearing. Some senators had said privately that they received calls from employees critical of Koller's management style.
Human Services Chairwoman Suzanne Chun Oakland (D, Kalihi-Liliha) acknowledged those concerns after hearing the testimony.
"There was a group that could fill this room, that I met with, that had a lot of concerns," she said. "They were not willing to come forward unless there was some kind of indication on my part, as the chair, not to confirm the director.
"I was not able to give that kind of decision. I'm open at this point."
Chun Oakland said she had forwarded a list of concerns to Koller, who did not get a chance to address the committee. The issues raised by opponents are expected to be raised when her confirmation hearing continues tomorrow.
Yesterday, committee members heard only accolades from a parade of private citizens, department employees and officials from various social service organizations, all of whom described Koller as an innovative, open-minded and analytical leader who has expanded services and helped attract matching federal funds for state programs.
"She has literally brought in millions of dollars in matching money," said Tom Driskill, chief executive officer of Hawaii Health Systems Corp.
"The leadership shown by Ms. Koller has been a significant change from the past," added Rich Meiers, president of the Healthcare Association of Hawaii. "She has been very accessible to all of us in Hawaii on a wide variety of issues."
Although Koller has clashed with majority Democrats in the past, most notably in 2005 over her agency's use of federal money from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program, her work over the past four years drew praise from some former Democratic lawmakers.
They included former House Housing and Human Services Chairman Michael Kahikina and former House Health Chairman Dennis Arakaki.
"When Lillian Koller was first appointed director of the Department of Human Services, I thought we were in for a by-the-book, legalistic type of leadership," Arakaki said. "I was pleasantly surprised.
"I firmly believe Director Koller has been fair in considering our legislative proposals to improve the quality of life for Hawaii's children, families, the poor and the disabled."
Koller's hearing comes after the Senate this week rejected the nomination of Iwalani White to head the Department of Public Safety, citing an overwhelming amount of negative testimony. It marked the first time that the Senate has rejected a Lingle Cabinet appointee.