HONOLULU (KHON2) — Kaleo Manuel has been reinstated as deputy director of the Commission on Water Resource Management.
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Manuel had been re-assigned to a different division two months ago, after a private company’s request to divert water to their West Maui reservoir on Aug. 8, the day of the Maui fires. The move led to a community uproar, alleging he was unfairly targeted. A lawsuit filed against the state alleged the move was illegal, as the full commission did not weigh in on the decision.
“There was this feeling that public and private sector folks were taking advantage of the disaster to do things,” said Dr. Jonathan Likeke Scheuer, a Maui water expert and principal of Kahalawai Consulting LLC. “We see this as nothing short of a complete and full vindication of Deputy Manuel.”
“They underestimated the voice and the power of the community,” said Dr. Kamana Beamer, a former water commissioner and current professor at the U.H. Center for Hawaiian Studies. “So if that was a premeditated plan, it’s over. And they realize that the community will not stand for untruths and fall guys.”
In announcing Manuel’s reassignment on Aug. 16, the DLNR said in a statement: “The purpose of this deployment is to permit CWRM and the Department to focus on the necessary work to assist the people of Maui recover from the devastation of wildfires.” DLNR Chairperson Dawn Chang said at the Sept. 19 commission meeting: “This is not the commission’s decision, this is mine.”
Today the DLNR revealed the Attorney General’s involvement, saying in a statement: “On August 15, 2023, the Attorney General had requested that Manuel be deployed to another DLNR Division until her investigation of certain personnel events related to the August 8, 2023, Maui wildfires was completed.”
“I was informed today, that the Attorney General has completed her review of this isolated issue,” Chang said in a statement. “I would like to thank Dean Uyeno for stepping in as the acting deputy director of CWRM and appreciate his steady leadership of CWRM during this unprecedented time.”
When asked for clarification on the purpose of Manuel’s reassignment and who initiated it, the DLNR replied: “As this was a personnel issue, we have no further comment.” The AG’s office responded: “The Department of the Attorney General does not make statements regarding personnel matters.”
“Certainly the messaging has been very in inconsistent,” Scheuer said. “It’s been unclear why he was dismissed, it is great that he’s back. And so that’s why I do believe that it’s very important that he’s back. But it’s not enough. Some of us really felt that this was part of a larger campaign to undercut the water code.”
“Thousands upon thousands of people are willing to take up the cause, even in some of the toughest times in our lives, to stand up for what makes Hawaii Hawaii,” Scheuer added. “Think of it as a promise that there are so many of us who just pay attention to these things and really care and that we want to see what’s best for Hawaii happens and we will work to defend that if necessary.”
“I do think it could have been done with a little more grace. And there should be a formal apology to Kaleo as well as to the community of Lahaina for exacerbating the suffering,” Beamer said. “These are complex political times, and we do have to continue to be makaala (awake or alert) for sure. But I want to celebrate the courageous voices and community that came out to speak on an issue of injustice.”