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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, December 24, 2002

Two more named for state posts

By Lynda Arakawa
Advertiser Capitol Bureau

Gov. Linda Lingle yesterday named Honolulu Assistant Police Chief Stephen S. Watarai as director of the state Department of Public Safety and agricultural marketing expert Sandra Lee Kunimoto as head of the Board of Agriculture.

Honolulu Assistant Police Chief Stephen Watarai has been appointed director of the Department of Public Safety. Behind him is Board of Agriculture nominee Sandra Lee Kunimoto and Gov. Linda Lingle.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

Watarai, who retires after 38 years with the Honolulu Police Department, faces a prison overcrowding problem that policymakers have been struggling with for years. The state began paying to board inmates in Mainland prisons in 1995.

Watarai said he hopes to build prisons to keep inmates in Hawai'i.

"When they go away to these prisons, they become hardened criminals; they're learning from other gangs, and they come home more hardened than when they left, so hopefully this will be a solution to that problem," Watarai said.

Watarai, 58, does not have experience in the correctional system. But he said: "I am eager to learn. It's a completely new system to me. I'm familiar with issues that everybody else is familiar with, like overcrowding, but I'm going to roll up my sleeves and get down and learn from the people who are there."

In addition to dealing with the prison overcrowding issue, Watarai said he hopes the department's law enforcement division will share some responsibilities with the Honolulu Police Department and perhaps augment some of HPD's duties such as booking arrests and patrolling public housing.

Lingle's nomination of Watarai and Kunimoto require Senate confirmation. Each will make $85,302 annually. Lingle has so far appointed eight of 16 directors, and she is expected to name the directors of the Department of Defense and the Department of Taxation Thursday.

Stephen Watarai

Post: Director, Department of Public Safety

Age: 58

Previous jobs: Assistant chief of police and other posts during 38 years with the Honolulu Police Department.

Education: St. Louis High School.

Sandra Lee Kunimoto

Post: Chairwoman, Board of Agriculture

Age: 48

Previous jobs: Administrator of the business development and marketing division, state Department of Business Economic Development and Tourism; director of marketing and business development, Hawaii Agriculture Research Center; vice president of administration, Hawaiian Foliage and Landscape Inc.; general manager, Maui Farmers' Cooperative Exchange; research associate, University of Hawai'i Department of Horticulture; research supervisor, Sunnyside Nurseries Inc.; technical consultant, FMC International Inc.

Education: Kalani High School; Bachelor of Science in Biology of Natural Resources, University of California at Berkeley; Master's in Business Administration, University of Hawai'i.

Senate Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs Committee Chairwoman Colleen Hanabusa said she has some concerns with Watarai and cited her previous experience with Watarai in 1990 surrounding the hotel workers' strike — during which she represented the hotel workers.

Hanabusa, who is also running for Congress in January, said she didn't want to elaborate because she has not yet discussed the matter with Watarai.

"It has been a while, but it left enough of an impression on me that I remember him," Hanabusa said. "I have had an interaction with him and I want to make sure he has the necessary skills to run the Department of Public Safety. It is a hotbed, and you want to be sure that you have someone who is able to do that job."

Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona said more than 100 people submitted resumes for the public safety director position. Aiona said Watarai has made significant contributions to the federal Weed and Seed program, and "fits right in line with what we are emphasizing in terms of corrections which is treatment and vocational and educational and just taking a holistic approach to ... corrections in general."

In his current role as an assistant chief, Watarai oversees the Central Patrol Bureau, which covers the Central Honolulu, Kalihi, East Honolulu and Waikiki police districts as well as the Central Receiving Division. His bureau has about 800 uniformed police officers and civilian employees and an annual working budget of about $41 million.

Watarai will begin his new post after Feb. 1, when he officially retires from the police department.

Meanwhile, Lingle said the Department of Agriculture will be moving away from its previous emphasis on enforcement and regulation and have a stronger emphasis on the marketing aspects of agriculture.

Kunimoto, who is acting director of the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, said: "There will be a balance between the needs on the regulatory side and watching out for our consumers ... and at the same time building our partnerships to expand our markets."

Senate Water, Land and Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Lorraine Inouye said she was impressed with what Kunimoto said and that she is encouraged by Lingle's emphasis on marketing agriculture.

"I think the industry will be very happy with this nominee," Inouye said. "Her background, to me, is very encouraging."

Farm Bureau president Tom Hill said Kunimoto is "exceptionally well-versed in the business side of agriculture.

"Although she's not an agriculturist herself, she's been involved in management of farm cooperatives and she's worked in promotion of scientific agriculture as well," Hill said.

Kunimoto, 48, also said she supports keeping animal quarantine periods as short as possible while still ensuring public health and safety.

"I had two cats go in when it was a 120-day quarantine," she said. "It's just heart wrenching to have them in there."

Kunimoto is scheduled to begin heading the agriculture department at the beginning of next year.

Advertiser staff writer Gordon Y.K. Pang contributed to this report.

Reach Lynda Arakawa at larakawa@honoluluadvertiser.com or at 525-8070.