A Hawaii County Council committee voted against recommending a nominee to the Leeward Planning Commission Tuesday after a vetting process failed to discover a disciplinary complaint against him.
Retired attorney Mark Van Pernis was nominated in December by the office of Mayor Harry Kim to serve on the commission until the end of 2024. The council’s Planning Committee met Tuesday to review that nomination and forward it to the full council with a recommendation.
While most nominations pass through committee with only perfunctory discussion, Van Pernis’ nomination met with unexpected resistance after Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy mentioned that he had been the subject of a complaint with the state Office of Disciplinary Counsel. That complaint had not been included in the material provided to the committee, leading Lee Loy to question the entire vetting process.
“I Googled his name, and I found this complaint,” Lee Loy said. “It didn’t take much to find this, but it’s not in the material. Which leads me to question, has this been vetted at all?”
Rose Bautista, executive assistant to Kim, said she didn’t know how the complaint slipped past the vetting process, but assured the committee that Van Pernis had been properly vetted.
Van Pernis, who was not present at the meeting in Hilo, but responded via videoconference call, said the complaint originated in 2003, when he was critical of a foreclosure commissioner, who filed the complaint against Van Pernis in retaliation. As a result, the Hawaii Supreme Court suspended his license to practice law in the state for three months.
However, Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz also pointed out letters written by Van Pernis that were published in West Hawaii Today that she said were highly critical of the county, “attacking” the county for being “(in) bed with developers who have no intention of keeping their promises after they extract their corporate benefits and profits.”
Those letters, Kierkiewicz said, cast doubt on Van Pernis’ ability to be an impartial commissioner.
While the committee voted 5-2 against recommending Van Pernis’ nomination, several of the council members indicated that they would be willing to approve the nomination at full council after receiving more complete documentation regarding the complaint.
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