HILO, Hawaii – An uneasy discussion concerning the next Corporation Counsel for the County of Hawaii was held in Hilo on Wednesday morning.
Mayor Harry Kim’s appointment of Joseph Kamelamela to serve as county’s top civil attorney was given a positive recommendation by the Council Committee on Governmental Relations and Economic Development with a 7 to 2 vote.
Valerie Poindexter and Tim Richards voted “kanalua” no. Both said they needed more time to talk to Kamelamela before making a final decision. The full council will take another vote in two weeks.
The room was full of supporters of Kamelamela. Many testified in favor of the appointment.
Mayor Kim sat beside his chosen nominee for the duration of the two-hour discussion. Councilmembers asked Kamelamela numerous questions.
The inherent tension surrounding the position was apparent during the back and forth. Unlike other administrative appointments, the Corporation Counsel serves both the executive and legislative branches of government. As some councilmembers pointed out, it can be a difficult task to “serve two masters”.
In addition, Kamelamela entered the meeting under scrutiny for earlier actions in which he reportedly notified some deputy corporation counsel attorneys they would lose their jobs. In response, the County Council fast tracked a bill to change the county code, giving the council the power to approve the hiring or firing of deputies in that office. Bill 254 passed with a 6-2 vote in November, but was vetoed at the last minute by outgoing Mayor Billy Kenoi.
Mayor Kim asked to have Kamelamela’s confirmation waived through committee straight to the full council on December 21, 2016. However, that request was denied by Council Chair Valerie Poindexter, and Kamelamela instead found himself before the Governmental Relations and Economic Development Committee on Wednesday. During the committee meeting, Poindexter expressed concern over some of the feedback she had gotten from the public outside the council chamber.
Kamelamela comes out of retirement having previously served in the Office of the Corporation Counsel from 1987 to 2014. He served on the litigation team and in 2001, he took on a leadership role as Litigation Chief. In 2012, he was promoted to serve as the Senior Deputy Corporation Counsel.
If approved, Kamelamela will serve a term co-terminus with Kim’s tenure, which will end on December 7, 2020.