Maui mayor faces calls to resign as questions about county’s wildfire response grow

When asked who was calling the shots that day at the Emergency Operations Center, Maui Mayor Richard Bissen said, “I’m not sure who was in charge.”
Published: Aug. 30, 2023 at 6:21 PM HST|Updated: Aug. 30, 2023 at 6:33 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - More than three weeks after a raging inferno gutted historic Lahaina town, leaving at least 115 people dead, not one state or county leader has taken responsibility for the failures that led to the deaths of what’s likely hundreds of people.

Public outcry hit a new high after a news conference Tuesday, when top officials fumbled through a series of questions about communication breakdowns that happened as flames razing Lahaina.

When asked who was calling the shots that day at the Emergency Operations Center, Maui Mayor Richard Bissen said, “I’m not sure who was in charge.”

Special Section: Maui Wildfires Disaster

At another point during the news conference a reporter questioned the director of the state’s emergency management agency saying, “We don’t know how many people maybe died waiting for a response. You don’t think there was anything your agency could have done?”

Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara responded, “Personally I don’t think so.”

The continued lack of accountability has prompted many to sound off on social media, saying things like, “Really. This is what you say when so many lives have been lost” and “It was their job to be on high alert.” The response has also been called “unprofessional.”

Particularly baffling to some: Why the mayor wouldn’t say where he was during the disaster.

Political analyst Colin Moore said Bissen, in particular, must increase his “level of transparency” about his administration’s wildfire response if he wants to remain on the job. “If it looks like public officials are trying to hide something, all that does is add fuel to the fire,” he said.

Moore said over the past three weeks there’s been too much finger-pointing between state and county leaders. “In a catastrophe of this magnitude, that’s not satisfying,” Moore said. “There were failures and those should be acknowledged. For people at the very top, this is their responsibility.”

Moore says the time to accept responsibility and move on is quickly running out.

“I would like to see more apologies made. At the end of the day, the purpose of government is to protect people. Government didn’t protect people on that day. And so it was a failure,” he said.

“That failure needs to be acknowledged.”

HNN asked Bissen about calls for him to resign. He responded that Maui is experiencing extraordinary grief, anxiety and strain” in the wake of the wildfires and that his administration has “been involved since Day One” to meet people’s needs.


“While the past 23 days have been difficult, it is also unprecedented,” he said. “I will continue to bring forward state and federal resources, work with our affected communities and leverage all we can to help our recovery efforts and our island’s future.”

Hara, meanwhile, said he understands community frustration but has no plans to resign.”

“I believe that a lot of the anger is the result of misinformation, disinformation and malinformation,” he said, in an emailed statement to Hawaii News Now. “I stand by my colleagues and my own experience, education, and actions during this unprecedented disaster.

Gov. Josh Green also issued a statement about leadership concerns, saying this is a time “for us to come together as an ohana and heal. I won’t judge anyone. This is not the time for that.”