The big shift in Big Island – Yagong could be in line to chair council

by Nancy Cook Lauer

West Hawaii Today
Thursday, November 4, 2010

HILO — A new County Council majority emerging from Tuesday’s election is likely to name Hamakua Councilman Dominic Yagong its chairman.

Yagong, who begins his sixth two-year council term Dec. 6 after winning re-election with no opposition, is organizing a meeting Sunday with the three newly elected council members and the two West Hawaii incumbents who won re-election. The group will discuss leadership positions, he said.

“Every time after an election, we go through this exercise,” Yagong said. “I’m interested in having this County Council get back on track and really get together to get things done.”

Yagong declined to say whether he will ask to be named chairman, although Kohala Councilman Pete Hoffmann, one of the sitting councilmen invited, said he will support Yagong for that position. Yagong has not held either the chairmanship or vice chairmanship during his council tenure.

“I’m certainly willing to put my support behind Councilman Yagong if he wants to be chairman,” Hoffmann said. “What I want is leadership that will be much more effective than the current leadership. What I’m looking for is a council of all nine people that will not be prone to political gamesmanship.”

Current Council Chairman J Yoshimoto, who wasn’t invited to the meeting, was philosophical. Under his leadership, the council experienced some turmoil, but it also managed to cut the legislative budget from $5 million to $3 million and move some economic development forward that had been stymied by the prior council leadership, he said.

“I’ve been in the minority, in the majority and now may go back to being in the minority,” Yoshimoto said. “That gives myself and hopefully everyone else some perspective and wisdom for moving forward. We tried to work together last term. It didn’t always work out, but that’s what you keep trying to do, and hopefully we’ll do good things.”

The state Sunshine Law allows up to four council members to meet in private to conduct their leadership organization. The newly elected members aren’t considered official council members until after they are sworn in.

The makeup of the council changed dramatically Tuesday when two-term incumbent Puna Councilwoman Emily Naeole-Beason lost to retired businessman Fred Blas and one-term incumbent Ka’u Councilman Guy Enriques lost to political newcomer Brittany Smart.

First-term incumbent North Kona Councilman Kelly Greenwell lost in the primary to returning Councilman Angel Pilago.

South Kona Councilwoman Brenda Ford has also been invited to the meeting. Ford declined to say what role she’s seeking in the new council makeup or which committee she’d most like to lead.

Hoffmann, who has introduced several measures on concurrency and impact fees, said he wants to chair the Planning Committee. Smart, who is quitting her job as office manager for a county green-waste contractor, wants to lead the Environmental Management Committee. Pilago has said he’s interested in chairing the Human Services Committee.

“We really won’t know until we get together,” Yagong said of how the leadership will ultimately shake out, although he said people should be able to serve on committees taking advantage of their strengths and interests.

“I think the people have done their job selecting their representatives,” Yagong said. “And now it’s important that we get together and work together in the interest of the people of this island.”