A kinder, gentler Mark Van Pernis made his appearance at April’s meeting of the Leeward Planning Commission, but he still had plenty of questions for applicants seeking to create or modify their developments.
Van Pernis, under the gun after Mayor Mitch Roth asked the County Council to remove him from the commission, was granted a reprieve earlier this month from the council’s Planning Committee to give him a chance to modify whatever behavior had caused some fellow commissioners and staff to complain about him to the mayor.
The issue comes back before the Planning Committee at 10 a.m. Tuesday. The meeting isn’t open to the public but can be viewed on the County Council website.
Roth said he received numerous complaints. He said his administration has to set a standard of conduct in light of state and county laws governing fair treatment and the aloha spirit. Van Pernis, he said, is creating a hostile work environment.
A spokesman for the mayor said Thursday he is sticking to his stance on removal.
Detractors called Van Pernis rude, crusty, insulting, confrontational and condescending, among other adjectives. But supporters said the commissioner does his homework and asks difficult questions because he’s responding to West Hawaii residents’ concerns about unsustainable development.
Besides, said several supporters and Van Pernis himself, he has a speech impediment that may make it difficult for people to understand him.
Van Pernis said he’s received training from county corporation counsel about planning commission rules and procedures since the council committee meeting.
“To the best of my recollection, this was the first time I received this complete instruction and saw everything presented. It was certainly helpful and informative of proper behavior and limitations re the commission,” Van Pernis said in an April 14 email to Planning staff. “I would have behaved accordingly rather than lawyering had I been previously so instructed in detail.”
He’s also asked the commission to provide a device that would allow him to type and have the words appear on a screen for all to see, as a possible accommodation. In the meantime, he submitted his questions in writing and staff then read them at the April 15 meeting.
That caused other complaints from two commissioners, who said the process was extending the meeting. The Leeward Planning Commission meeting, with three development applications on the agenda, took six hours. An April 1 meeting of the Windward Planning Commission, also with three applications, took two. It’s not a one-to-one comparison, however, because development applications differ in complexity.
“I’m just puzzled by this whole procedure we’re going through. The rest of us commissioners are sitting here quietly listening to Mark’s list of questions being repeated by staff and then back and forth and he has followup questions which he seems to articulate just fine,” said Commissioner Nancy Carr Smith. “It seems as if this is a waste of time and I can’t not say that.”
Commissioner Barbara DeFranco agreed.
“As much as I understand that we’re in a difficult situation, this is taking a lot of time,” DeFranco said. “The questions — a lot of them are repetitive and irrelevant and that’s what we brought up before. This was the problem we were having before. We’re still having this problem.”
Chairman Michael Vitousek told the commissioners reasonable accommodations are required under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“This is something that was requested and we’re trying to do our best to accommodate an ADA request from a commissioner,” Vitousek said, “which I think we have to do in order to accommodate those needs from a commissioner.”
Council members had delayed the issue a month to give Van Pernis a chance to prove himself, instead of, as Hamakua Councilwoman Heather Kimball put it, starting with the “nuclear option.”
North Kona Councilman Holeka Inaba wants to see Van Pernis succeed.
“With his continued respectful and professional behavior, I look forward to seeing Mr. Van Pernis finish out his term,” Inaba said.
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