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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, July 26, 2007

Laura Thielen to head Hawaii's DNLR

By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Laura H. Thielen

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Laura H. Thielen a lawyer, former member of the state Board of Education and current executive director of the state Office of Planning was announced yesterday as interim chairwoman of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

Thielen, the daughter of state Rep. Cynthia Thielen, R-50th (Kailua, Kane'ohe Bay), starts work on Monday but still must be confirmed by the Senate next session.

"She's a known quantity," said Gov. Linda Lingle, who used an appearance at the 2007 Hawai'i Conservation Conference yesterday to announce Thielen's appointment. "People know, whether she's on the Board of Education or at the state Office of Planning, she is a very effective and articulate advocate for the issue that she's dealing with. ... I think that will be a help to her during her legislative process as well."

Thielen replaces interim director Allan Smith, whom Lingle appointed on May 1 after Smith's predecessor, Peter Young, failed to win Senate confirmation for a second four-year term as the DLNR director.

Young continued to assist Smith at the DLNR as a deputy until last week and has formed a consulting business aimed at private-public partnerships, he said yesterday.

Young also led the 30-member search committee that sent the names of Thielen and another candidate to Lingle for consideration. The other person is considered as a possible candidate as the department's deputy director for land, Lingle said.

Thielen has focused on land use and environmental issues as a lawyer in Ohio and with the law firm of Gerson Grekin Wynhoff & Thielen in Honolulu. She also has been a consultant to nonprofit groups and state agencies including the attorney general's office, University of Hawai'i Foundation, Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Hawai'i Justice Foundation, state Department of Health, Hawai'i Commission on Access to Justice and Hawai'i Foster Parent Association. She also has been a managing attorney with the Legal Aid Society of Hawai'i. Yesterday, Thielen said DLNR is plagued with problems that need to be fixed, such as allegations of mismanagement, impropriety and harassment, and special favors at the Bureau of Conveyances, which is under the DLNR. Thielen called the Bureau of Conveyances a "chronic issue that needs to be resolved. It is a very serious issue that affects many people in Hawai'i."

Jeff Mikulina, director of the Sierra Club Hawai'i Chapter, was a member of the selection committee that forwarded Thielen's name to the governor and said: "We have a great working relationship with her. We look forward to working with her at DLNR and hope she can continue some of the conservation success that Peter Young initiated."

Mikulina called the job of DLNR director "an increasingly challenging role. There's going to be more conflict, or perceived conflict, with sustainability in protecting the environment and commercial and private interests that want to build closer to the ocean at a time when the ocean's coming up closer."

Reach Dan Nakaso at dnakaso@honoluluadvertiser.com.