LIHUE — Kauai County Council Vice Chair Nadine Nakamura, who topped the council elections last year, announced Friday she is leaving her position to replace county Managing Director Gary Heu.
“I’m just excited about this new challenge,” Nakamura said.
Heu announced earlier this year he would retire Aug. 31, after 11 years in county government, first under the late Mayor Bryan Baptiste, and then under Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr.
Nakamura’s first day on the job will be Nov. 1. Until then, she will keep working on the council.
“I have a full agenda before I leave,” she said.
Council Chair Jay Furfaro said Friday in a statement the council extends their “sincerest aloha and mahalo” to Nakamura for her service on the council.
“Nakamura is the consummate professional; one who takes the time to research issues thoroughly and make thoughtful decisions,” he said. “She has been a pillar of strength and integrity for the council and her absence will be truly felt as the council continues to move forward.”
Carvalho said in a press release Friday he is “thrilled” to bring to the administration someone with experience, deep knowledge of county government and highly diverse skills.
“There were several excellent candidates to consider, however I feel Nadine is the right person to assist in moving the team forward at this time,” he said.
Nakamura ran for council for the first time in 2010, when she came in second among a field of 14 council candidates. In the 2012 elections, she was elected again, this time with the highest number of votes.
On Nakamura’s second term, her colleagues voted her as vice chair, following a nomination from Furfaro.
When Nakamura first joined the council in 2010, she brought with her years of planning and county government experience.
She holds a bachelor of science degree in public affairs and urban planning from the University of Southern California and a master’s degree in urban and regional planning from the University of Hawaii.
She worked for the city and county of Honolulu’s Land Utilization (now Department of Planning and Permitting) and Transportation Services departments, as well as a project coordinator for affordable housing.
Serving on the Kauai County Council in the last three years, Nakamura said was a different thing. It gave her a better knowledge of the legislative process and what it takes to get county bills through, she said.
She also was able to forge strong relationships with council members and staff, which she said will help improve communication between the branches of the county government.
Some of Nakamura’s work as a council member included program evaluation, strategic planning and collaboration building, she said.
As the new county managing director, she believes she can work with department heads for a better county government, help implement Carvalho’s vision and make sure the administration’s priorities get done, working in collaboration with the community and state and federal governments.
“It helps if we’re working together,” she said.
But before she takes on her new job, there is still work to accomplish at the council.
“I have a number of projects that I’m working on that I would like to see moving forward,” said Nakamura, adding she is presenting a bill to add revisions to the county Shoreline Setback Ordinance.
At the council, Nakamura was instrumental in funding feasibility studies for several projects and plans, including a food hub, a creative media center, a commercial kitchen incubation and multi-species processing facilities.
Now, she will be working with Office of Economic Development Director George Costa to move these projects along, she said.
As far as Bill 2491, related to pesticide disclosure and genetically modified organisms, she is still uncertain if she will be part of the body that will make a final decision.
Carvalho asked the council last week to defer the bill for two months. Last week’s meeting was recessed and will continue Tuesday, when a final decision could be reached. But Nakamura, who introduced significant amendments to Bill 2491, doesn’t know yet if she’ll vote on it.
“Timing in not very good, but I’m exploring the concerns,” she said. “I will be conferring with the county attorney to find out what actions I can and cannot take.”
When it comes down to conflict of interest, the county Ethics Code is pretty narrow, Nakamura said. Basically, a financial gain needs to be involved for a conflict to exist.
With Nakamura’s departure, former Councilman KipuKai Kualii could be called to serve a second term — without an election.
“If called upon, I’m ready to serve,” Kualii said in a written statement Friday.
In early 2011, former Councilman Derek Kawakami left his seat to fulfill a vacancy as a state representative for Kauai’s North Shore and part of Kapaa. The council then unanimously voted to give Kawakami’s seat to Kualii, who twice had unsuccessfully tried to be elected to the council, but each time he got a little closer.
In the last elections, Kualii missed the cut for the third time in a row.
“After placing eight in the last election, the council chair, Nadine and other council members encouraged me to not give up and stay engaged,” he said. “I assured them I would.”
During his time away from the council, Kualii volunteered with the Anahola Hawaiian Homes Association, the Homestead Community Development Corporation, the Kauai North Shore Community Foundation and the PFLAG Kauai Chapter.
“Knowing the process, I’m hopeful that all six remaining council members will consider my past service and dedication, as well as the voice of the voters in the last election,” he said. “I’m hopeful that I’ve been able to demonstrate that I bring solid experience, a native Hawaiian perspective and a calm, productive energy.”
• Léo Azambuja, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0452 or firstname.lastname@example.org