New DLNR director studies agency's ills
Laura Thielen takes over for Peter Young, denied a second term
Since Laura H. Thielen was appointed interim director of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources last week, many well-wishers have told her they think she will be a good manager for the sprawling agency.
Thielen herself called the job "a phenomenal privilege" to lead more than 700 employees charged with the "awesome responsibility" of taking care of the state's natural and cultural resources.
"But then there has been a significant percentage of people who shake their heads and say, 'You gotta be a little nuts to want to take that on,'" the 46-year-old attorney said in an interview with the Star-Bulletin.
In April the state Senate refused to confirm department Director Peter Young for a second term in the job, despite an outpouring of praise for his work.
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
"The bureau has to be effective, it has to be efficient and it has to be secure."
Laura H. Thielen
Director, Department of Land and Natural Resources
Thielen, who has been director of the state Office of Planning (a part of the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism with fewer than 30 workers) for the past two years, insists it is "not nuts" to give the job a shot.
To become the permanent director, Thielen must win Senate confirmation when the Legislature convenes next year.
Thielen's previous public service included a stint on the state school board, where she advocated for Gov. Linda Lingle's unsuccessful plan to break up the statewide board into smaller districts, and the Kailua Neighborhood Board.
She is the daughter of longtime state Rep. Cynthia Thielen (R, Kailua) and managed her mother's unsuccessful campaign to unseat U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka.
During Young's confirmation hearing, critics highlighted concerns with four of the Department of Land and Natural Resources' 11 divisions:
» The Bureau of Conveyances, which records land sales in the state and is now undergoing simultaneous ethics, criminal and legislative investigations.
» The Historic Preservation Division, which has faced questions about management, chronic understaffing and handling of sensitive Hawaiian burial issues.
» The Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation, which oversees the state's deteriorating small boat harbors.
» The Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement, which has been criticized for understaffing and ineffectiveness.
Thielen said she plans to approach the department as an integral whole.
"I think as the director of a department as big as DLNR, you have to be able to delegate, but you also have to be able to very clearly communicate what is that end goal for the division managers to be working together to achieve," Thielen said.
"I don't think it would be good to go into DLNR and focus on one division or another, because there is such an interrelationship between these resources," she said.
Thielen said she will spend her first few weeks in the job "listening and asking questions," before making any major decisions.
She allowed that the Bureau of Conveyances will probably require a significant amount of attention.
"I don't personally have any solution that I'm lobbying for," Thielen said. "I think every option should be on the table. But it's clear to me that that bureau is not going to move forward unless it's something that the administration, the Legislature and the union agree to."
"The bureau has to be effective, it has to be efficient and it has to be secure," Thielen said.
Thielen said she supports plenty of community involvement in setting policy, citing the ahupuaa focus of a new statewide Ocean Resource Management Plan she helped craft as an example of that.
And she is interested in using technology to get the most "bang for the buck." She gives as examples pooling resources of different state agencies to improve the state's GIS (Geographic Information System) mapping abilities, and seeking a computer system for the Bureau of Conveyances that not only solves current problems, but makes more key data available to the public.
When people are educated about natural resources, she said, they "start to moderate their own behavior and maybe become a kind of peer pressure on others" to do the same.