View Point

By Donna Mercado Kim

Friday, February 7, 1997

DLU director’s conflicts
may hamper effectiveness

Sullivan’s past work presents
professional and political trouble spots

In your Jan. 25 lead editorial, "Jan Sullivan deserves a chance to head DLU," you urged the Honolulu City Council to approve the mayor's choice for director of the city's Department of Land Utilization. In response, I wish to share with you some of my concerns regarding Sullivan being named to this vitally important post.

The charter specifically states that the head of DLU must have a minimum of five years in training and experience in a responsible planning position, at least three years of which must have been in an administrative capacity in charge of major land-utilization activities. Contrary to your statement, knowledge of the land-use process does not qualify one for this post.

It is fair to assume that an attorney, architect or consultant processing a land-use permit understands the planning or zoning process. However, it is incorrect to conclude that all land-use agents, including attorneys, have training and have been in charge of major land-utilization activities.

Your editorial said Sullivan may be the ideal person to advance Mayor Harris' streamlining efforts. However, streamlining the land-use process has been vigorously advocated by every administration since I have been on this Council (1986). Past DLU directors John Whalen, an urban planner/consultant, and Don Clegg, a planning consultant, were both very knowledgeable in the land-use process and diligently worked toward this end.

Because our state is so small, there are probably few qualified individuals who would have no potential conflicts of interest. However, there are clearly those individuals who present a blatant degree of conflict vs. an appearance of conflict.

Sullivan's representation of clients with projects past and presently under consideration by the city presents a blatant degree of conflict. This is especially true since the DLU director has sole discretionary power in matters relating to zoning variances and conditional-use permits.

Thus, the state Office of Disciplinary Counsel has advised Sullivan not to participate in any land-use matter in which she has participated personally and substantially as a private attorney. The opinion further stated that she may not participate where the land-use interests are "materially adverse" to the interest of former clients, unless prior consent is obtained.

One may question the effectiveness of Sullivan as director. Should the Council also be confirming the deputy director if she will be making most of the decisions?

Sullivan is also bound to maintain the attorney-client privilege on past work with former clients for a lifetime. Can she effectively seek compliance of unilateral agreement conditions that she drafted for former clients such as Royal Kunia or West Beach Estates? Will action on conditions that have remained outstanding for years be deemed "materially adverse?"

How does one "divorce" (as the mayor has said) or "divest" (as quoted in your editorial) oneself from her profession as a land-use attorney? Can she truly recuse herself from any decision on land-use applications submitted by Oceanit Laboratories Inc., an engineering firm of which Sullivan's husband is owner and president? Will this put her staff in a compromising position?

As you pointed out, Sullivan has provided free representation for homeowners opposing overhead transmission lines. This is indeed commendable. But let's not forget this issue was very dear to then- Council Chairman Arnold Morgado. Was this pro bono work politically motivated?

Based on reports by several businessmen, Sullivan solicited large donations on Morgado's behalf during his special election bid for mayor. So inquiring minds are asking why is it that Mayor Harris is pushing such a controversial appointee. Why has the mayor impressed on numerous business groups and individuals to support Sullivan?

Finally, you correctly stated that if this appointment is confirmed, Sullivan and the entire department will be closely scrutinized. Unfortunately, this will result in valuable time wasted on defending DLU decisions and less effort being spent on streamlining the process.

Donna Mercado Kim is a Honolulu City Council member representing the 7th District. The opinions in View Point columns are the authors' and are not necessarily shared by the Star-Bulletin.

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