The state agency regulating development in Kakaako is in need of its third executive director in three years.
Jesse Souki, head of the Hawaii Community Development Authority, notified the agency’s board and staff last week that he is stepping down Nov. 30 after one year on the job.
Souki had been undergoing a performance review and received positive ratings and comments from board members and staff, according to board Chairman John Whalen.
“It was unexpected,” Whalen said of Souki’s decision, adding that Souki had done a good job.
In a Nov. 1 letter addressed to Whalen, Souki did not indicate a reason for resigning, but said it was a challenging and productive year.
“It has been an honor and a privilege to serve as the executive director and chief executive officer,” Souki said in his letter.
Among HCDA staff and board accomplishments Souki cited were amending affordable-housing rules and updating park rules for the 670-acre Kakaako region bounded by King, Punchbowl and Piikoi streets as well as land between Ala Moana Beach Park and Honolulu Harbor.
The agency also has struggled to deal with recurring homeless encampments in and around its public parks, and is engaged in a dispute over private management of Kewalo Harbor.
Illegal camping in three HCDA parks — Kakaako Waterfront, Gateway and Kewalo Basin — has been a particularly vexing issue.
HCDA closed all three parks Oct. 8 to clear out an estimated 180 campers following fires, dog attacks, damaged water lines and broken light fixtures where electrical power was tapped by campers.
Souki said at the time that the problem reached a point where it was not manageable. Damage was estimated at more than $500,000.
Gov. David Ige announced Oct. 30 that HCDA would be hiring private security to enforce park rules. Souki in a report earlier in October said agency staff was able to issue citations only to combat park rule violations, and that the citations (121 were issued in August) are ineffective at preventing violations.
The Kakaako homeless situation has been a serious problem for more than three years. In 2015, more than 300 homeless people crowded into illegal encampments largely on sidewalks around Kakaako Waterfront and Gateway parks, where state Rep. Tom Brower (D, Waikiki-Ala Moana-Kakaako) was chased and beaten.
HCDA also closed the parks in 2016 to rid them of homeless and repair damage to landscaping, sprinklers and electrical lines.
In an email, Souki said he enjoys public service and hopes to serve in a future capacity focusing on land-use law and policy. “My leaving has nothing to do with the board or staff,” he said. “They are all committed to the work they do on behalf of the public.”
Whalen said a special board meeting is being scheduled for Nov. 22 to accept Souki’s resignation, appoint an interim leader and establish a process to hire a new executive director.
It might be possible, Whalen noted, to speed the process by using the results of an exhaustive search that led to hiring Souki, whose salary was $130,000.
HCDA’s board attracted 192 applicants for the position last year as part of an effort that included a $31,250 contract with executive search firm Bishop &Co. Six applicants got board interviews, and Souki was one of two finalists.
Souki’s past experience included positions as a private attorney; deputy corporation counsel for Maui and Honolulu counties; director of the state Office of Planning; first deputy director of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources; and director of planning, permitting and right-of-way for the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation. He is also related to state Rep. Joe Souki, who is a cousin of Jesse Souki’s grandfather and was House speaker until earlier this year.
Prior to Souki’s hiring at HCDA, Aedward Los Banos, the agency’s administrative services officer, served as chief executive for 11 months through last November. Los Banos stepped in for Anthony Ching, who had served as executive director since 2007 and retired at the end of 2015 after undergoing open-heart surgery.