LIHU‘E — The Kaua‘i Planning Commission Tuesday unanimously voted to give Interim Planning Director Michael Dahilig a permanent position. He was sworn in that same day by Interim County Clerk Ricky Watanabe.
“I am humbled by the appointment and thank the commission for their confidence,” Dahilig said in a press release. “I also want to acknowledge my staff for their professionalism, dedication and hard work, which has resulted in the department achieving its goals thus far.”
Last November, former Planning Director Ian Costa resigned and the commission immediately confirmed Dahilig, a deputy county attorney at that time, as interim planning director, following Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr.’s recommendation.
But it took the commission more than 10 months to appoint Dahilig as permanent planning director. The commission conducted several closed-session evaluations. County spokeswoman Mary Daubert said the county did not advertise for the vacant planning director position.
Commissioner Hartwell Blake said Tuesday that in the numerous discussions among commissioners, there was a feeling that perhaps they should have advertised for the position, because the perfect candidate could have been “out there.”
Blake said it would have been nice if a “perfect candidate” was really out there, but the commissioners will never know. And besides, if the perfect candidate wasn’t found, the process would have delayed the appointment of a planning director.
That said, Blake praised Dahilig, saying he believes the new planning director comes with more credentials than most people, particularly for having previously served in the County Attorney’s Office and having a planning background.
Prior to serving in the department and prior to his position as a deputy county attorney, Dahilig worked as a law clerk for Fifth Circuit Court Judge Randal Valenciano.
In addition to a juris doctorate with a certification in environmental law from the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa, Dahilig holds a master’s degree in urban planning and a bachelor of science degree in geology and geophysics, also from UH Manoa.
Dahilig said not much will change in his job duties as permanent director, other than a paradigm shift to move toward implementing many of the items where the groundwork had been laid over the last 10 months.
Some of his main challenges include land planning, enforcement and regulation, which is inherently gray and requires balancing of interests from many constituencies, he said.
“Maintaining balance is the biggest challenge,” Dahilig said.
As far as staffing, budgeting and supplies, enforcement is a key challenge for the department. There are only five inspectors for the whole island, said Dahilig, adding that the department was “blessed” to have an additional position added to last year’s budget for transportation planning.
“I also think that we will need to be investing in GIS technology to keep up with the changing nature of land use,” he said.
Going into the job, Dahilig said he knew Ordinance 904 — which allows owners of Transient Vacation Rentals on agricultural lands to apply for a non-conforming use permit — was going to be a short-term challenge.
“We have deployed personnel and have an additional temporary person to assist with the processing of over 60 state Special Permits on top of the hundreds of renewals,” he said. “Once this bubble is processed, we should be able to have a better picture of departmental staffing needs with respect to maintaining a robust TVR permitting and enforcement program.”
Dahilig said his predecessor, Costa, had an admirable period of service.
“His aloha, kind demeanor and knowledge were pillars of the department for many years,” said Dahilig, noting that like all transitions, change takes time, but his staff has been quick in adapting to his management style and expectations.
“My staff has been professional and cooperative over the last 10 months, and their excellent work speaks volumes about their level of motivation to achieve,” he said.
Commission Chair Herman Texeira said Dahilig was asked in February to provide the commission with a list and timeline of goals and objectives he intended to accomplish as interim director. The goals were reviewed and accepted by the commission.
In September the commission conducted a confidential written survey among Dahilig’s peers and staff regarding his overall performance. All commissioners had an opportunity to review all comments, according to Texeira, who said the commission found Dahilig is doing “an admirable job” in moving programs and projects forward.
“I believe that the commission established an objective and comprehensive process to review and evaluate Mr. Dahilig’s performance,” he said.
After a “very healthy discussion,” the commission built a “solid foundation” to move ahead with Dahilig’s appointment as the planning director, Texeira said.
Commissioner Jan Kimura said the commission collectively evaluated Dahilig.
“The results provided to me that he is capable of doing his job,” he said. “He has also proved in the last 10 months that he is capable of handling all the complexities that this job presents.”
Kimura said Dahilig stepped in and quickly assured a smooth transition on major issues, such as the County General Plan and the Transient Accommodation Units ordinance.
Commissioner Cammie Matsumoto said she was impressed with Dahilig’s work.
“I think he is very inclusive, validates everyone’s expertise,” she said. “I feel I’ve seen his staff grow professionally.”
Commissioner Wayne Katayama said Dahilig’s management philosophy is very important to what the county needs as the commission handles complex problems.
Looking forward, Dahilig said in the release he intends to focus on efficiency, innovation and excellence as core values for departmental operations.
In the budget proposal for the current fiscal year, four key goals in the short term were laid out, according to Dahilig. Those goals included restoring staffing levels; innovating customer service, intake and enforcement; improving working conditions and training; and a focused effort on completing long-range planning initiatives.
“These short term goals have long-term consequences as the long-range plans procured this year will require a sustained effort over many years,” he said.
“Other long-term goals include moving toward more e-permitting and updating of codes and regulations.”
Implementation of studies, Dahilig said, will also be a key long-term challenge, especially in light of population growth, food security and energy needs.
Dahilig also worked closely with the commission, County Council, and County Attorney’s Office on implementing the Transient Accommodation Unit amendment to the County Charter, which capped the growth of TAUs on the island to 1.5 percent of the existing inventory.
Besides serving at the UH Board of Regents, Dahilig serves on the boards of the Hawai‘i Filipino Lawyers Association, National Federation of Filipino American Associations, Sariling Gawa Youth Foundation and the Kaua‘i Filipino Chamber of Commerce.
He is also a member of the Pacific Century Fellows class of 2012.
• Léo Azambuja, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) or email@example.com.