CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Peter Young, director of the Department of Land and Natural Resources, listened to speakers yesterday during his confirmation hearing.
DLNR chief's hearing takes unusual turn
A Senate committee's confirmation hearing for state Department of Land and Natural Resources Director Peter Young began yesterday with subpoenaed documents and a closed-door session.
Both measures are unusual, but justified by a request from the state attorney general's office, Chairman Russell Kokubun said before going into an hourlong executive session with the five-member Water, Land, Agriculture and Hawaiian Affairs Committee.
About 100 people inside the packed hearing room, and others gathered around a television outside, were left waiting for the hearing to continue.
Kokubun cited an April 9 letter from Lisa Ginoza, first deputy attorney general, that asked the committee to take testimony from its subpoenaed employee privately "because Investigator (Dennis) Naganuma is currently investigating potential criminal matters ... so as not to compromise the ongoing investigation."
What that investigation has to do with Young's job performance as DLNR director was unclear yesterday.
Kokubun (D, Kalapana-Volcano) said the connection would become clearer today.
The attorney general's investigation relates to questionable activities in the Bureau of Conveyances, according to Young and his deputy director, Robert Masuda. Young said he had requested the investigation in January after Masuda, who had been working closely with the Bureau of Conveyances, reported having concerns.
Young is not the focus of the investigation, Masuda said.
Almost all of the six hours of testimony yesterday were in favor of Young's reappointment. Two groups that were expected to raise objections -- native Hawaiians and fishermen -- submitted some negative written testimony but did not turn out to testify in person.
Stephanie Fried, senior scientist with Environmental Defense, called Young's "open-door and sunshine policy" for running the department exemplary and unprecedented.
Fried questioned whether there was "manufactured opposition" to Young. "Where are they? I don't see them showing up here."
The most pointed testimony against Young came from Randy Perreira, deputy executive director of the Hawaii Government Employees Association.
Perreira's written testimony said that the union had filed 36 grievances on behalf of Bureau of Conveyances employees during Young's administration. Under questioning from committee members, he could not say yesterday what the outcome of those grievances has been.
Thirteen subpoenaed witnesses are expected to testify before the committee today. They include William McCorriston, an attorney who represents Kauai landowner Jimmy Pflueger, regarding the 2006 breach of Ka Loko Dam; three former employees of the state Historical Preservation Division; a current employee and former director of the DLNR's Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation; four employees of the Bureau of Conveyances; and an investigator with the State Ethics Commission.
Any testimony today from Bureau of Conveyances employees that pertains to the investigation in that division will be held in executive session, Kokubun said. Other testimony from subpoenaed witnesses will be public, he said.
The bureau is the state's central recording office for land titles, liens and contracts, processing more than 400,000 documents a year.