Mayor: Blue-ribbon committee is way to select cabinet

Mayor Maryanne Kusaka said she would recommend to the next mayor her system of gathering community volunteers to review rsums, conduct interviews, and select new cabinet members.

She said she thinks the process will be more political this year no matter who is elected mayor.

Her blue-ribbon committee selected Kusaka’s first cabinet in short order (under a month) when she took office eight years ago. That cabinet included three people she didn’t even know, including Administrative Assistant Bob Mullins, Kusaka said Tuesday.

The result was that all of her appointees, about 30 in all, except the finance director, were in place on inauguration day. So, in her experience, 25 days is enough time to build a cabinet.

“Immediately after I was elected, I had in mind people that I wanted to have as an advisory group, to interview cabinet people, because I had no idea,” Kusaka said.

Around a dozen people convened as Kusaka’s blue-ribbon committee for cabinet selection.

Representatives of the business community, some with expertise in personnel matters, plus a smattering of younger Kauaians, the president of the Kaua’i Chamber of Commerce, and others, gathered to scan rsums, conduct interviews, and come up with recommendations, the Mayor said.

The word went out, via radio, newspaper and other means, that anyone interested in serving in Kusaka’s cabinet, in appointed positions, should submit rsums.

“After they made their recommendations, I interviewed all of them. And I was pretty happy with all of them, and their expertise, and what they could bring to the county, so I hired them,” she said.

“They did the selection. They appointed all of my cabinet,” she said. “I think it’s the fair thing to do,” said Kusaka, who stood by her committee’s choices, and hers, even when criticism began about the Republican mayor choosing a cabinet made up mostly of Democrats.

“It’s the non-political thing to do,” and “it worked for me. We had a lot of continuity,” said Kusaka. “I worked with the cabinet appointees and took their recommendation as to what to do with the people that they supervise that were appointed, whether we keep them or appoint new ones.”

The selection committee was happy with its picks, so supported those appointees over the years, she added.

The next mayor, Kusaka feels, would do well to keep some of her appointees, if they’re willing to stay on and if they share the vision of the new mayor.

“The common-sense thing to do is, for continuity’s sake, to keep the people on. If you want to terminate, then you can always do that; they’re appointed.”

Even with the recent exodus of a few appointed officials, some who took positions with the federal Transportation Security Administration at Lihu’e Airport, Kusaka can still count the number of replacement cabinet members she required over eight years on two hands.

By contrast, during the administration of former Mayor JoAnn Yukimura, who served for six years, there were 37 or 38 changes in appointees, including four different planning directors alone, Kusaka said.

Yukimura, a candidate for County Council, said she was the first mayor to call for rsums from those interested in serving as her appointees.

Before her election as mayor in 1988, mayoral candidates routinely made promises of county jobs to individuals in exchange for individual and family support at the polls, Yukimura said.

Yukimura’s entire cabinet wasn’t in place before her inauguration, because she was most “intent on getting qualified people, and I wasn’t going to rush the process” because of inaugural time constraints, she said.

“You can get a core group, but it might not be complete,” Yukimura said of the 25 days between the general election and inauguration day.

Staff Writer Paul C. Curtis can be reached at mailto:pcurtis@pulitzer.net or 245-3681 (ext. 224).

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