Hawaii preservation agency chief resigning
By Kevin Dayton
Advertiser Big Island Bureau
By Kevin Dayton
Melanie Chinen, the embattled head of the state Historic Preservation Division, is resigning effective Dec. 7, citing the physical toll the job has taken on her and the emotional strain on her family from job-related controversy and litigation.
The Society for Hawaiian Archaeology earlier this year voted to seek the removal of Chinen from the agency due to a history of staffing and other problems at the agency during Chinen's tenure. The society contends a lack of staff and other problems made it impossible to properly protect historic and archaeological sites.
An organization called Friends of the Burial Sites Program that includes Hawaiian cultural practitioners and Hawaiians working to protect burial sites has also lobbied Board of Land and Natural Resources Chairwoman Laura H. Thielen to have Chinen removed.
That group held a news conference this year to call attention to problems within the agency, including complaints that Hawaiian remains have been unearthed to make way for developments around the state, but have not been properly reburied.
Earlier this month former state archaeologist David Brown filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging his contract was not renewed by the state Historic Preservation Division because of his opinions on "illegal, unethical or culturally insensitive" activities at the division. That case is pending.
Chinen said yesterday she is proud of her accomplishments during her three years at Historic Preservation, including "the level of ethical decision making I brought to the division. However, I really do have to step back and take into consideration the impact on my family, specifically my children."
She said she was not asked to leave by her superiors in Gov. Linda Lingle's administration, and instead is leaving at the request of her family. Chinen said she gave five weeks' notice early this month, before the Brown lawsuit was filed.
"The job's taken a toll on my physical being as well as the emotional well-being of my family, the long hours, not being able to spend time with the family, but also a lot of the malicious statements that have been publicly said by a disgruntled few have really hurt my family," Chinen said.
Thielen announced yesterday she has appointed a temporary transition team to manage the division while a search for a new administrator is under way.
"I want to thank Melanie for her years of service with the department, and her dedication to the mission of SHPD," Thielen said in a statement released yesterday.
The temporary transition team will include Bryan Flower, branch manager of SHPD's architecture branch; Stanton Enomoto of the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs; and Rowena Somerville, a deputy attorney general who works with the Kaho'olawe Island Reserve Commission. Thielen said she will also spend time at SHPD's Kapolei office helping the transition team.
Tom Dye, president of the Society for Hawaiian Archaeology and an outspoken critic of the way the division has been run in recent years, said his organization is "obviously pleased" at the announcement, adding that "we wish her well."
Dye predicted it will now be much easier for the agency to recruit qualified archaeologists. "Our membership has believed for a long time that one of the main problems was the leadership at SHPD," he said.
Chinen said most of the archaeology posts in the division are now filled. The vacancies that remain include a Big Island archaeologist and the archaeology branch chief.
Chinen worked for the state auditor for more than 10 years before working for Lingle's then-chief of staff, Bob Awana, and then began her three-year tenure as administrator of the Historic Preservation Division.
The division includes an archaeology branch that reviews development plans that could have an impact on archaeological sites, an architectural branch, and a history and culture branch that deals with discoveries of old human remains or Hawaiian burials found in the path of developments.
Chinen said she plans to enjoy her two daughters when they return home for the holidays. Professionally, she said, "I do have some options open that I'm considering, but no commitments yet."
Reach Kevin Dayton at email@example.com.