Big Island council shifts leadership


POSTED: Monday, June 29, 2009

KAILUA-KONA » The Hawaii County Council chose two freshmen members to lead powerful committees and ousted a veteran policy-maker from the vice chairman's position in a move widely viewed as shifting the balance of power from the west side of the Big Island to the Hilo side.

Both moves passed 5-4 earlier this month with the five majority votes coming from east and south region council members.

Just seven months into their first two-year terms, Dennis Onishi of Hilo will take the reins of the Finance Committee, while Guy Enriques of Kau will head the Public Works Committee. They replace Dominic Yagong of Hamakua and Brenda Ford of South Kona, respectively.

The public weighed in during nearly seven hours of testimony, overwhelmingly urging the council to leave the leadership alone and praising the work of Yagong, Ford and Kohala representative Pete Hoffmann, who served as vice chairman after a stint last term as chairman.

“;It's not as if these people are doing a bad job,”; said Gretchen Lawson of Kona. “;I implore you to use judgment, sensitivity and don't put through what amounts to a coup.”;

She said reshuffling the leadership leaves about 50,000 voters in the west and north districts underserved. “;It is akin to taxation without representation,”; she said.

Although many residents and at least two council members questioned whether Emily Naeole, in her second term representing Puna, was qualified to serve as vice chairwoman, she countered she deserved a chance.

Council Chairman J Yoshimoto said he favored the switch.

“;All of us are capable to serve. Anyone on this council can serve in any capacity,”; he said. “;My tipping point is giving people the opportunity to serve.”;