Laureta, Kawakami, Oda to KIUC board

Retired federal and state Judge Alfred Laureta, businessman Derek S.K. Kawakami and retired Kaua‘i Police Department officer Dane Oda were elected to the board of directors of the Kaua‘i Island Utility Cooperative Saturday.

Out of 5,651 secret ballots returned to KIUC, Laureta captured 2,917 votes, Kawakami corralled 2,684 votes, and Oda collected 2,430 votes.

The votes cast amounted to about a fifth of the reported 25,000 members of KIUC.

KIUC officials said they were happy with the results, noting in an e-mail that the ballots collected amounted to 682 more ballots cast than were cast in the 2005 election of board members.

The new board members will join six other board members, and their ascension to their new positions raises new hope that lines of communication with the KIUC membership will improve.

The relationship between KIUC leaders and board members and the public nose-dived after The Garden Island ran stories last year that raised questions about expenditures by the board, trips by board members, acquisition of properties, and other matters.

Those claims were dismissed as being without merit by existing board members.

The activities spurred efforts by some KIUC members, including unsuccessful KIUC board candidate Carol Bain, to ask the board members to be more open with members of the public.

Bain, a Kaua‘i Community College faculty member and a journalism instructor there at times, has pressed the board members to revise board policies and bylaws to allow improved public access to information on KIUC operations.

The new incoming board members also said they would strive to reduce KIUC’s dependence on oil imports. That means selecting alternative-energy technologies that could trim electric bills.

Failing in their bids for board seats were Bain, Ben Lizama Jr., Craig Maas and Linda Saloka-Pasadava.

Laureta, who has said in pre-election campaigning that he supports improved relationships between the board members and KIUC members, said last night he was surprised by the number of votes he received.

He said he felt that way because “there were moments when I thought that, since I am of the same age as Senators Dan Akaka, (D-Hawai‘i) and Dan Inouye (D-Hawai‘i), my age would be held against me.

“I am extremely grateful to the KIUC members who voted for me, and I am happy that they chose, instead, to accept my experiences and values as positive factors for the KIUC board of directors,” Laureta wrote in a hand-written message faxed to The Garden Island.

Laureta served 11 years as a Hawai‘i state judge, and 10 years as a federal district judge in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

Kawakami, who was reached by phone last night, said he was elated by his victory, and that being on the board has been “something I have always dreamed about.”

Being on the board, he said, allows him to “give back (to the community),” he said.

“I like to give my heartfelt appreciation to everyone who voted,” he said. “My thoughts are for the majority of the people who are recovering from this bad weather, more so than this victory.”

Kawakami is the assistant operations manager for the Big Save convenience stores, the Menehune Food Marts, stores located at Shell gas stations in Kapa‘a and Kilauea, and two resort gift shops.

The additional duties of being a KIUC board member won’t be a burden, he said, because “I am young. I am 28 years old.”

Oda said a key goal for him is to restore public trust in the board.

“My concern is getting on, and I would take the bold form here and do what I got to do,” he said. “And, of course, it would be in cooperation with the rest of the board.”

Oda said he also wants to make sure KIUC is on solid financial footing so that it can qualify for more funding in the future for its expansion.

He said he wants to make the KIUC membership happy by investing in alternative-energy technology that will drive down electrical bills.

Oda was a manager with McCabe Hamilton & Renny Co. (stevedores at Nawiliwili Harbor) for 23 years.

Also approved in last night’s election were two by-laws governing KIUC.

One allows members to vote either at a member meeting or vote without attending a member meeting as long as a written vote has been authorized by the board members.

The other eliminates the provision for staggered terms for board members elected in 2003, as that bylaw is no longer necessary.

The three incoming board members will fill three-year terms.

They replace retiring board Chairman Gregg Gardiner, viewed as the driving force behind the development of the nonprofit cooperative; Vice Chairman Ron Kouchi, a former chairman of the Kaua‘i County Council and businessman; and Susan Stayton, who works for the computer firm of Rare & Dear, near Kalaheo.

The new members will be installed Tuesday at 1 p.m., after which they will participate in their first board meeting, at 1:30 p.m., in the KIUC first-floor conference room at the KIUC headquarters in the Hana Kukui Building of Kukui Grove Village West, in Lihu‘e.

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