Senate committee won’t recommend Espinda’s return as public safety director

Updated: Apr. 11, 2019 at 8:35 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Senate Public Safety Committee on Thursday voted against recommending the re-confirmation of Nolan Espinda as Hawaii’s public safety director.

The full Senate must still hold a final vote on whether to confirm the embattled director, but without the support of the Senate committee that oversees his department, Espinda’s nomination is almost certainly in question.

During a hearing that lasted just under an hour, members of the committee repeatedly cited the areas of concern that were repeated often by department employees and members of the public during confirmation meetings ― including, according to Sen. Breene Harimoto, a culture of “fear, intimidation, retaliation, favoritism and nepotism.”

“I’ve read every testimony that’s come up, every email ― and there are many ― and I’ve met with many of these people. They seem to be truly afraid,” said Sen. Harimoto. " I don’t subscribe to the train of thought that they’re just disgruntled employees."

“He probably was a good warden, but being the director of public safety is a very challenging position,” added Sen. Rosalyn Baker, another member of the committee.

On that, at least, many of the committee members agreed. Sen. Glenn Wakai ― who eventually joined Sens. Baker, Harimoto and committee chair Clarence Nishihara in voting against recommending Espinda for the job ― even told the nominee that he had “the most difficult job in the state of Hawaii.”

“If public safety is truly something that the public is concerned about, we should fund it,” Sen. Wakai said, noting that Espinda had been expected to deliver on expectations that are “100% solid” when only given “20% of the resources to do it.”

Sen. Kurt Fevella, who supported Espinda’s but accidentally voted against him at the end of Thursday’s hearing, said the legislature was equally responsible for the shortcomings of the director’s department.

“I want to give him a chance, that’s my feeling," said Sen. Fevella. "I’ve talked to this man, I’ve seen his vision. I cannot vote no for Mr. Espinda today.”

Espinda has come under fire after several high-profile events that happened under his watch, including last month’s riots at the Maui Community Correctional Center and deadly shootings at the state Capitol and Oahu Community Correctional Center.

A vote in front of the full Senate is expected some time next week.

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