LIHUE — Beth Tokioka, spokeswoman for Syngenta, was appointed Wednesday to the Kauai Water Board.
But her appointment by Mayor Bernard P. Carvalho Jr., which was approved 6-1 by the Kauai County Council, was not without controversy.
Councilman Gary Hooser voted against the appointment, saying that given her employment with the bio tech company, she isn’t right for the position.
“My concern is potential conflict of interest, with a company accused of poisoning,” Hooser said. “Syngenta has a pretty egregious reputation.”
Council members received over 600 emails from people who opposed Tokioka’s appointment to the board, Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura said.
During Wednesday’s meeting, Yukimura asked Tokioka if she would recuse herself should any issues regarding pesticides would arise.
“I’m well aware of those terms, and in terms of pesticides, if issues come up that would be a clear conflict, I would absolutely recuse myself,” she said.
If an issue that comes up, and she’s not certain if there’s a conflict of interest, Tokioka said she’d consult with the Board of Ethics.
It’s important to aware and empathetic of the community’s concerns with Tokioka’s connection, Hooser said.
“Given the history on this island, there is a tremendous amount of people concerned about the safety and environmental impacts of pesticides,” he said. “The mayor’s appointment shows a certain amount of insensitivity and tone-deafness to those concerns.”
It’s nothing personal, Hooser said.
“This is about an inherent bias, and we need to recognize the community’s concern,” he said.
But Tokioka is more than a Syngenta employee, said Councilman Arryl Kaneshiro.
“It comes down to integrity and accountability,” he said. “Beth is responsible for her own decisions. She is not just an employee of Syngenta. She’s a resident of Kauai and a mother. She is friends to many people on the island, and if she makes a bad decision, she’ll be criticized for it.”
While public perception is important, Councilman Mason Chock said he takes people at face-value.
“I know Beth as a not one-issue kind of person,” he said. “I think she’s very objective, and I hold her in high regard.”
Tokioka said she will not let her position at Syngenta effect her decisions on the Water Board.
“Syngenta did not ask me to take this appointment, and I’m 100 percent confident my employer will not ask me to sway my decisions,” she said. “I’m proud of my reputation, and I take it seriously.”
Kirk Saiki, chief engineer of the Department of Water, said the Water Board has never made a decision on pesticides in the water.