Maui News

Council panel recommends confirmation of Kate Blystone as planning director

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Kate Blystone responds to a council member’s question Tuesday afternoon during a Government Relations, Ethics, and Transparency Committee meeting on her appointment as director of the Department of Planning. PC: Screen capture image courtesy County of Maui / Akakū

Kate Blystone won a recommendation for confirmation as Department of Planning director in an 8-1 vote Tuesday afternoon from the Maui County Council’s Government Relations, Ethics and Government Transparency Committee. The panel’s recommendation advances to the full council for a final vote.

The lone vote against Blystone’s confirmation came from Council Member Tasha Kama. Council Member Yuki Lei Sugimura voted “yes,” with reservations.

“I am so deeply concerned that this department is one of the biggest departments,” said Kama, chair of the council’s Housing and Land Use Committee. “Ms. Blystone has never managed a department. She’s never managed a huge department such as planning.”

“For me, it’s important that the person at the helm is the captain of this ship, and our ship sometimes seems to be going aground, and I would like a captain of the ship that is going to steer clear of any icebergs,” Kama said. “We are in a difficult time right now, chair. So, I’m not feeling really comfortable about this, and I will be voting no.”


Council Member Keani Rawlins-Fernandez spoke in strong support of Blystone’s nomination.

“While this is a huge kuleana, I think someone that comes into this kind of position understanding that they’re not a dictator that it’s going to take all of us, that it’s going to take the entire team to make things happen is someone that I want to get behind, is someone that I want to work with,” she said.

Rawlins-Fernandez said Blystone has a “welcoming, inviting personality” that helps make her approachable, willing to consider new ideas and “explore different ways of doing things so that we can continuously evolve as a county.”

She added that Blystone has identified problems with the department, and “identifying the problems is the first step in solving the problem.”


Earlier during questioning by council members, Blystone said she’s open to working collaboratively to make changes in the Planning Department.

“If something is not working, we need to address it and make a change to make it better,” she said.

Addressing the longtime problem of staffing shortages in the Planning Department (currently 22 vacancies), Blystone said her goal is to create a department with people “as excited about planning as I am and want to come work here.”

If short staffing continues, “then we have to take a look at the work that we do and adjust how we do that work so that we can size that workload for the staff that we have,” she said.


Council Member Tamara Paltin also spoke in favor of Blystone’s nomination, calling her an “excellent candidate.”

“I have a lot of confidence in Kate after working with her closely on the West Maui Community Plan,” she said.

Council Member Tom Cook told Blystone that “it’s a really, really tough job. I’m hoping that the mayor and the managing director will work closely with you. The planning department has huge potential to pave the way for Maui’s future. I’m hopeful, optimistic and supportive.”

Council Member Gabe Johnson said he’s a “little concerned” that Blystone does not have an AICP, which is certification from the American Institute of Certified Planners.

Blystone has more than 20 years of experience as a land planner and community engagement professional in the public, private, nonprofit and education planning sectors.

Her most recent experience was serving as a program officer with the Hawai‘i Community Foundation’s House Maui Initiative. She was a senior planner V with Maui County for four years. Blystone also worked as a project manager for Bowers + Kubota Consulting, as an outreach manager for the Pipeline Safety Trust, as a program director for RE Sources of Sustainable Communities and as a lecturer in Urban Planning at Western Washington University.

In 2012, Blystone completed a Master of Urban & Regional Planning degree at Eastern Washington University with an emphasis in small town planning. In 2006, she earned a Bachelor of Arts with a minor in environmental studies from Western Washington University.

Brian Perry
Brian Perry worked as a staff writer and editor at The Maui News from 1990 to 2018. Before that, he was a reporter at the Pacific Daily News in Agana, Guam. From 2019 to 2022, he was director of communications in the Office of the Mayor.
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