Maui County Council appoints new clerk, deputy clerk in wake of election challenge
February 4, 2023, 6:00 AM HST
The Maui County Council on Friday night appointed former top county lawyers Moana Lutey and Richelle Thomson as the leading election officials.
The decision comes in the wake of an election contest that questioned the previous county clerk’s handling of invalid ballots that had mismatched signatures and unsigned envelopes.
After the 9-0 vote during the council’s regular meeting Friday, Lutey was approved as county clerk and Thomson as deputy county clerk. The two will serve for the remainder of the 2023-25 term.
Lutey has been a county employee for 27 years, most recently leading the Department of the Corporation Counsel under the previous administration. Thomson was with Corporation Counsel for 12 years and served as first deputy under the recent administration.
“I’m a committed county employee,” Lutey said during a council interview.
On Friday night, the two were praised by council members for their professional qualifications, as well as for creating a team atmosphere and boosting morale in the Office of the County Clerk.
“From Ms. Lutey’s and Ms. Thomson’s first day, communication with the entire staff was a priority,” said a letter from the Office of the County Clerk that was signed by employees. “We as a staff finally feel heard, included, secure and, most importantly, appreciated.”
Keola Whittaker, county deputy Corporation Counsel who worked with Lutey and Thomson, said they are “great supervisors” and “hardworking.”
The staff praises resonated with council members Tasha Kama and Yuki Lei Sugimura.
“This really spoke volumes to me,” Sugimura said before the vote.
Lutey and Thomson nominations were questioned by some in the community due to salary increases attached to the positions. Also, a few testifiers disapproved of Lutey’s position in the longstanding Lahaina injection well suit and other controversial county issues.
“I did express my concerns about the pay increases,” said Council Member Shane Sinenci, noting he’s gotten calls and questions about the raises.
The county clerk’s new annual salary is $156,982, which is about $45,000 more than the last term, according to Civil Beat. The new deputy county clerk’s annual salary is $149,132. A previous proposal had the position at $110,000.
The salaries are set by the Maui County Salary Commission, which determines compensation of elected officials, department heads and first deputies or first assistants of all county departments.
Council Member Keani Rawlins-Fernandez defended the pay rates, though.
“We don’t know how the Salary Commission comes up with the pay rates and it makes us less competitive,” she said. “If we want quality people applying for these positions . . . we need to offer competitive wages.”
The applicants for county clerk were Lutey, Charles Alevato, Mia ‘Aina, Ruby Chapman, Keriy Dawson, Casey Findtner, Courtney Friend, Tracy Gibbs, Anmarie Mabbutt, Mike Saiki and Peter Yoon.
Applicants for deputy county clerk were Thomson, Saiki, Gibbs, Mabbutt, ’Aina, Alevato, Guy Barbaiy, Francis Chen and Regina Corniel.
After the Nov. 8 election, Noelani Ahia and 30 Maui County voters filed a complaint to contest the outcome of the council’s Wailuku-Waiheʻe-Waikapū race, pointing to “irregularities and mistakes” in the processing of hundreds of deficient mail-in ballots.
During the arguments, Maui County lawyers said there is a current national trend of candidates challenging work done by election professionals. Also, the county clerk had to account for how invalid ballots were deemed as such, and some categories of invalidation were unclear.
The state Supreme Court ruled recently that defendant Lee received the majority of the votes and had won the seat. Plaintiffs failed to establish a viable election challenge that would “cause a difference in election results,” the court said.