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Resignations point to tough road ahead

Updated: 
September 29, 2017 - 12:05am

We disagree with Mayor Harry Kim that this isn’t a trend.

County Human Resources Director Sharon Toriano resigned Wednesday, the fifth department head to leave their post since Kim took office in December.

The exodus doesn’t constitute a trend, Kim told West Hawaii Today, because each figure left the administration for different reasons.

That’s true. But each department head — HR, finance, public works, mass transit and parks and recreation — was tasked with different responsibilities, so while their individual reasons for stepping away may differ, the fact that they all did so in the first months of Kim’s reign can’t be ignored.

Is it because the work for some is too hard, the tasks ahead too insurmountable?

Departed Finance Director Collins Tomei said as much earlier this month. He said the steep learning curve to balancing a half-billion dollar budget proved too steep a hill to climb.

Add to that, this is our speculation, not Tomei’s words, the bleak outlook ahead. The $490 million fiscal year 2017-18 budget was in the hole prior to it being set. The county raised taxes to generate revenues to help offset that. The Hawaii Legislature, meanwhile, voted to send additional transient accommodations taxes to Oahu, so the window for neighbor islands hoping to bolster their budgets from that revenue stream has shut.

It’s balanced this year, but what’s the plan for next?

Former Parks and Recreation Director Charmaine Kamaka resigned without stating a reason. Deputy Director Ryan Chong also left the post the same day. For a department that typically focus on good old fashion fun — Kupuna Softball, anyone? — Kamaka spent the bulk of 2017 policing and cleaning up after a swelling homeless population in Old Kona Airport Park. The major operation grabbed statewide headlines and is still in the works establishing permanent housing for the homeless.

The cleanup operation is also the model that’s going to be used for Hilo’s parks, so the mission is far from complete.

Former Mass Transit Administrator Tiffany Kai stepped away in April and the struggling Hele-On bus system was in such disarray, Kim brought in a retired U.S. Marine to whip it into shape. Departed Public Works Director Frank DeMarco was clear in his reasons for leaving. He said in July it was because the job took too much time and his family life was suffering.

Then there is County Human Resources Director Sharon Toriano. She resigned abruptly Wednesday after an audit exposed “questionable hiring practices” and a West Hawaii Today article Monday indicated preferential treatment of job applicants through her use of sticky notes on official hiring documents.

To be fair, the HR director is not under Kim’s authority but reports to the Merit Appeals Board. Kim really has no say in that position. But if the audit and ensuing article didn’t expose a good ol’ boy network at work since at least the prior administration, it surely showed how corners were cut.

Could the resignations all be a coincidence? Sure.

Could department heads think Kim asks too much? That could be. It could also be that some think Kim’s not a good leader. We’ll be upfront that we don’t know about all the inner workings here, but we’re hesitant to think it’s just happenstance, considering the government is tackling major financial and societal issues.

Kim has his workout cut out for him moving forward. We hope the people he brings on know that, too.

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