Senate panel hears accolades for DLNR leader
Laura Thielen was praised by supporters yesterday as a smart, committed, consensus-building manager who is a good fit to continue as director of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.
The comments came before the Senate Water and Land Committee, which is holding a confirmation hearing on Thielen. She currently serves as interim director and has been nominated for the permanent position.
Most of those praising Thielen knew her through her work as director of the Office of Planning, a job she held from 2005 until chosen in July by Gov. Linda Lingle for the DLNR post.
"She possesses the vision, passion, management and leadership skills to be the director of this department that is critically important to this state," said Ted Liu, director of the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, who was Thielen's direct supervisor.
Liu called Thielen quick to recognize and use talented staffers, "a proactive problem-solver who collaborates and outreaches to outside stakeholders."
State Attorney General Mark Bennett touted Thielen for her "superb native intelligence, thoughtfulness, dedication and calm approach to problem-solving."
"Though she has been in the job a limited time, she will be a great leader for the department," Bennett said.
Among the organizations submitting testimony in support of Thielen were the Nature Conservancy of Hawaii, the Trust for Public Land, and Kahea -- the Hawaiian Environmental Alliance.
The handful of testimony against Thielen's confirmation focused on concern that she has not done enough to turn around the troubled state Historic Preservation Division.
Alan Murakami of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp.; Sara Collins, an archaeologist and former employee of the division; and William Aila, an activist in Hawaiian burial issues, all acknowledged that Thielen has not been on the job long and probably has the Senate votes to be confirmed.
But, they said, they are worried Thielen has kept the same administrator at the division who was accused of poor management decisions in the past. They also are not sure that Thielen is rebuilding the division's staff with qualified employees, making sure island burial councils have qualified appointees, or taking action to appropriately rebury hundreds of disinterred bones from construction sites.
"I really respect and like Laura. I think she is as intelligent as everyone has said," Murakami said. Things are in such disarray at the Historic Preservation Division that "it should be a no-brainer what should be done."
Thielen will talk about her accomplishments over three months on the job and respond to questions when the committee reconvenes at 2:45 p.m. Monday.