Forced resignation and bias hiring alleged in Agriculture Dept - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Forced resignation and bias hiring alleged in Agriculture Department

David Rietow, Agribusiness Development Corporation Board Member David Rietow, Agribusiness Development Corporation Board Member
Scott Enright, Agribusiness Development Corporation Chair Scott Enright, Agribusiness Development Corporation Chair
Russell Kokubun, State Department of Agriculture Chair Russell Kokubun, State Department of Agriculture Chair

By Tim Sakahara - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - There's controversy at the State Department of Agriculture over what's called a forced resignation and an inside job on picking the replacement.

The Agribusiness Development Corporation meetings usually focus on farmers and ranchers but today's meeting cultivated controversy.

"The board has been totally functional up until July of this year when the Abercrombie group came in," said David Rietow, Agribusiness Development Corporation Board Member.

Since July there are six new appointees from Governor Neil Abercrombie and five left from the Linda Lingle Administration.  Then there's Executive Director Alfredo Lee who was hired 12 years ago and has had only positive job reviews but is being forced to resign.

"Sometimes when, and this is true in most corporations, when you have someone that is in a position of leadership they get stale they don't have any out of the box thinking," said Scott Enright, Agribusiness Development Corporation Chair, who asked for Lee's resignation.

"For me it's about leadership. We need to be more assertive in trying to move the agriculture industry forward," said Russell Kokubun, State Department of Agriculture Chair.

There's concern over how the replacement executive director was picked.  The job posting was up on the state website nine days without any announcement or notice issued.  Just one person applied, James Nakatani who happens to be the Department of Agriculture Deputy Director appointed by Governor Abercrombie.

"I believe it was an inside job and it was done to get Jimmy into that position. All the signs point to it," said Rietow. "I have a problem with the process. It was not a fair and open process in my mind. Let's say you want to build a house, you get more than one quote don't you?"

"Unfortunately I think it has become very political very suddenly. In a sense it's kind of refreshing that agriculture has become important enough to be political on the other hand I think it's important that we all do what's pono," said Michelle Galimba, Kuahiwi Ranch.

"I'd be concerned there was only one applicant. Maybe the search wasn't wide enough. We recently had the Hawaii Public Lands Corporation they had from what I understand 17 applicants for that position. They narrowed it down to seven, and then four and one so there should be a pool of qualified people out there," said Alan Gottlieb, Ponoholo Ranch, LTD.

"I think everyone can have an opinion about how long it should have been or whatever but the whole point was we wanted to go out, we wanted to make it a public process and it was," said Kokubun.

Legally Kokubun says the state did nothing wrong with the search only being up 9 days.

"I think we did the process in the most appropriate manner," said Kokubun.

The Abercrombie faction of the board approved Nakatani for the job.  Now they'll all have to find a way to work together.  Until at least next July when two more board members will have reached their term limit and new appointees will be in place.

Copyright 2011 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.

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