County leaders meet on mayoral succession

The tragic death Sunday of Mayor Bryan Baptiste has saddened the island and the statewide community, a county news release states.

The mayor’s office yesterday received hundreds of calls of condolences and expressions of support.

Formal funeral arrangements have not yet been completed.

Gov. Linda Lingle, a close friend of the mayor, ordered state flags to fly at half staff on the day of his interment. That date has not yet been announced.

All county offices were open yesterday and officials said county functions will proceed without disruption.

Kaua’i County’s administrative and legislative leadership met at 8 a.m. yesterday and were to meet again at 4 p.m. to discuss county operations and to ensure the orderly succession.

“It is important that the community understand that county government is continuing to function despite our loss,” said Kaua‘i County Council Chair Bill “Kaipo” Asing.

“We met this morning and we will be holding future meetings to ensure that everyone is working together.”

Acting Mayor Gary Heu, who served as Baptiste’s administrative assistant, has previously served in the acting mayor capacity on numerous occasions when the mayor has been off island.

Heu said he has moved weekly department head meetings to daily to assure county operations remain uninterrupted.

“The bottom line is that we have a group of good and very capable department heads and in working with the council we are committed to providing for the health, safety and well-being of this community,” Heu said.

County Attorney Matthew Pyun said both the temporary and permanent filling of the mayor’s seat are laid out in the county charter.

“The charter provides that there is continuity until such time as a new mayor is put into office,” Pyun said. “The administrative assistant works closely with the mayor and that’s why this person is empowered to go on.”

County Clerk Peter Nakamura, who serves as the county’s chief elections officer, said that he is researching the issues regarding the holding of an election for the mayor’s office in 2008. In the meantime, he joined the other county leaders in assuring Kaua‘i residents that county functions will proceed without disruption.

“The charter provides for these kinds of situations, as sad as they are,” he said.

Under Kaua‘i’s charter, any time the mayor’s seat is vacant, the administrative assistant steps in as acting mayor until a new mayor is appointed or elected.

The council is empowered to select a new mayor from among the council’s seven members by a majority vote, but council members have not met together on the issue.

A mayor selected by the council would have all the powers and duties of an elected mayor, but would only serve until another mayor is elected.

County officials are now discussing how and when an election would take place.

“We know what the charter says. Now it’s a matter of implementing it,” Nakamura said.

Ron Agor, a Kaua‘i Republic Party leader, said the council should examine the fairest way to handle the selection of an interim mayor.

“I would like to see a special election for the balance of Mayor Baptiste’s term held this November,” he said. “Furthermore, the selected interim mayor should not be eligible to run in the special election. That would be fair to all of Kaua‘i.”

“Kaua‘i County is in good hands under Acting Mayor Gary Heu,” Yukimura said.

“If possible, we should not rush into quick decisions, but should take the time to honor and remember the mayor before proceeding to the necessary political decision-making.”

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