NAWILIWILI — After a surprising turn of events, the County Council denied former state archaeologist Nancy McMahon a seat at the Kaua‘i Historic Preservation Committee at Wednesday’s meeting.
A resolution to confirm McMahon’s appointment attracted a large crowd to Nawiliwili Council Chambers. Only one out of several public testimonials supported her appointment, because of a fear that lack of quorum in the committee could mean an automatic stamp of approval on important projects. There are two vacancies in the committee.
An almost certain 60-day deferral on the resolution confirming McMahon’s appointment had already found peace among public speakers who fiercely opposed her in the committee — many even thanked the council on the deferral.
However, a sudden shift led to an unexpected outcome.
Councilman Mel Rapozo had initially made a motion to receive a resolution confirming McMahon in the committee, which basically means McMahon’s appointment would be shelved, and the committee seat would still remain vacant.
But Chair Jay Furfaro supported a deferral to investigate claims that McMahon does not hold the academic degrees she claimed in her application for a state archaeologist position she held for many years. Furfaro’s reasoning was apparently welcomed by most council members.
One by one, each council member said they would be supporting a deferral, even though most said they were ready to vote.
After hearing a parade of emotional testimony from Kaua‘i residents, including many native Hawaiians, saying mainly that McMahon has been insensitive to Hawaiian traditions and had not followed the law, the council mulled on what to do.
Councilman Dickie Chang made a motion to defer the decision, and was followed by Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura’s “second for discussion.”
However, council veteran Yukimura apparently forgot that a motion to defer offers no room for discussion. Rapozo quickly reminded her of the rules.
“Then I withdraw my second,” Yukimura said, laughing.
Rapozo, who had said he was ready to vote and would agree with a deferral, now said he would like to have a vote on his motion to receive, and if it failed, he “would be more than happy to support the chair’s request for deferral.”
Under council rules, a motion to defer supersedes other motions. So Chang withdrew his motion to defer to allow a vote on Rapozo’s motion.
A roll-call vote unexpectedly turned the tide, and on a 5-2 decision the council received the resolution, denying McMahon a seat in the committee.
Furfaro and Councilman Tim Bynum were the only ones voting against receiving the resolution. Both wanted more time to find answers from the public’s claim that McMahon was unqualified to serve.
Bynum said if he chose to vote against receiving the resolution — which he did — it wouldn’t mean that he supported McMahon’s appointment, just that he wanted to be fair to her.
Furfaro said he wanted a 60-day deferral to make sure there was enough time to obtain McMahon’s academic records and allow the council time to finish the budget review sessions.
“Today I don’t have any aloha for anybody,” James Alalem said. “Who can we trust? Trust is broken.”
Allegations of perjury, lack of sensitivity, proper procedures and a questionable degree marked almost every single piece of testimony opposing McMahon at the commission.
There was even a bizarre claim by a South Shore spa owner that none of her employees would work on McMahon because she would always come in dirty.
“Pilau,” Kaulana Fraser said of McMahon, explaining that in Hawaiian cultural tradition “unclean people” are not allowed to carry bones.
Others testifying included Ka‘iulani Edens, who along with Alalem had been arrested the prior week for standing in front of a backhoe digging in an area near Wailua River where a skeleton and Hawaiian artifacts had been found.
Edens said she heard that after she was taken into custody, four more skeletons had been unearthed in Wailua.
“She sides with developers,” said Edens, adding that McMahon takes developers to sites that no one else can access.
In a profile in Malamalama, the University of Hawai‘i magazine, published May 2006, McMahon says one of her job perks is that she gets “to see parts of the island that many people have never seen and will never see.”
Edens took the stand twice. The second time, she said she would like to know where all the artifacts are that McMahon had removed from the sites throughout the years.
Waldeen Palmeira, Joe Manini, Andrew Kabibi, John Zapala, Debra Kekaulua, Richard Spacer and a few others had many concerns with McMahon’s application.
Sherryl Labaobatake was the only one to speak on behalf of McMahon, fearing a lack of quorum would do more damage than having her there.
McMahon served many years at the archaeology branch of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources Historic Preservation Division. She was discharged last year, according to Spacer, who said he learned from the DLNR office on O‘ahu of McMahon’s dismissal.
At UH, McMahon earned a BA in anthropology in 1981, an MEd in 1988 and an MA in anthropology in 1990, according to Malamalama.
But paperwork from the state of Hawai‘i shows that when she applied for a position in 1988 at DLNR she listed having received an MA in Pacific Island studies program and anthropology (archaeology studies) in 1985 from UH. She also said she received a BA in anthropology in 1981 and an MEd in 1988 from UH.
McMahon also declared herself as a Ph.D. candidate in anthropology at “University of San Jose.”
UH Associate Vice President for Student Affairs Karen C. Lee told Spacer on April 9 that the registrar at UH Manoa was able to find the following degrees for McMahon: Bachelor of Arts, anthropology, May 17, 1981, and Master of Education, secondary education, May 15, 1988.
Attempts to reach McMahon by press time were unsuccessful.
• Léo Azambuja, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) or lazambuja@ thegardenisland.com.