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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, November 15, 2002

Finalists for health director in place

By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Capitol Bureau

A tentative list of three finalists for the state's next health director was forwarded to Gov.-elect Linda Lingle by a committee of leaders from the medical field on Monday, only hours after that panel began its first meeting.

But Philip Hellreich, chairman of the selection committee for the Department of Health, said the process is not closed and the panel is still accepting applications.

Hellreich said yesterday that the committee met for several hours Monday, then came up with the names of five finalists out of a list of 15 to 20 possible candidates.

Two of the finalists asked that their names be withdrawn from consideration, Hellreich said.

Two committee members were asked to be considered for the post and, upon agreeing to do so, stepped down from the 15-member committee. But Hellreich would not say whether either of those committee members has emerged as a finalist.

Hellreich, who declined to identify the finalists, said Lingle is expected to make a decision in the next two to three weeks. All applications are being forwarded to Lingle, he said, but she is not obligated to choose from among those.

Hellreich said he does not believe that the committee acted hastily in coming up with ranked finalists at its first meeting. Lingle said after winning the election that she would have some Cabinet jobs filled by her Dec. 2 inauguration but her staff also encouraged a broad base of Hawai'i residents to send in resumes.

Committee members "were told why we were meeting, to consider names, and to come with names already prepared," Hellreich said.

"In order to hit the ground running, we needed to move ahead fairly quickly."

Other applications have come in since Monday, he said, and they are being forwarded not only to Lingle, but to all committee members as well.

If the committee members decide they need to reconsider their finalists, "we actually have a couple of weeks to change the order," Hellreich said. "This is an open process. It gives most of the stakeholders a chance to submit suggestions and ideas.

"I don't remember the previous governor doing that."

Dr. Calvin Wong, president of the Hawaii Medical Association and another member of the committee, agreed.

The committee consists of a diverse group of stakeholders in the healthcare field who already have a good idea of who they think would make a good health director.

"I've had four to eight years to think about it," Wong said. "I think most (of the other committee members) were thinking about it at least a year or more.

"This is not the old way of doing things. This is truly representative of democracy at its finest."

Wong said the fact that some of the candidates did not apply means that the committee is looking not just at those seeking a job, but at people who are most qualified.

"True leaders do not apply for jobs; they rise to the occasion when they are hand-picked," Wong said.

The committee "obviously felt the people they had were very qualified." said Lingle spokesman Lloyd Yonenaka, stressing that the application process remains open.

Lt. Gov.-elect James "Duke" Aiona, meanwhile, yesterday announced the creation of three search committees that will review applications for the jobs of director of public safety, director of commerce and consumer affairs, and tax director.

Aiona said he will personally oversee search committees that will make recommendations for who will fill the posts.

He also announced that attorney Shelton Jim On will head the committee reviewing candidates for director of the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs.

Also, business owner Linda Smith, who served as Honolulu finance director when Frank Fasi was mayor, will lead the panel in charge of looking at prospects for director of the Tax Department.

Aiona said that selecting separate directors for corrections and law enforcement will be the first step toward dividing the functions of the Department of Public Safety, something Lingle advocated during the campaign.

The separation of functions would help strengthen what Aiona described as the "underutilized" law enforcement side.

But whether that plan will mean the need to hire more deputy sheriffs to deal with traffic or other enforcement has not been determined, he said.

Aiona said he believes that city and county police departments will be supportive if state sheriffs take a larger law enforcement role.

"I don't think they're going to get upset at sharing responsibilities at all," he said.

In addition to the health committee, separate panels were set up previously to review applicants for the directors of tourism and agriculture.

Lingle transition team officials said they intend to have most, if not all, Cabinet positions filled by the time she is inaugurated on Dec. 2.

Reach Gordon Y.K. Pang at 525-8070.