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Carlisle will hit the ground running

His midterm win means Honolulu's new mayor starts his job with much of the same personnel and issues as the former administration

By B.J. Reyes

LAST UPDATED: 12:16 a.m. HST, Oct 12, 2010

This story has been corrected.

As he prepares to take office, Mayor-elect Peter Carlisle says he knows what everyone wants to know about his administration.

"The first and foremost question is: Who's going to be running the city starting on (October) the 11th?" he says. "And the people who run the city are, obviously, the directors and deputy directors, as well as the secretarial staff."

Toward that end, Carlisle insists there will not be any drastic changes.

"I would say right now, it looks like the majority of the people who are here are staying," Carlisle said Friday in an interview. "Talking to deputy directors and secretaries, the answer is the overwhelming majority are staying."

Barring any last-minute challenge to the Sept. 18 special election, the transfer of power at Honolulu Hale should be completed at 4:30 p.m. tomorrow, when Carlisle is administered the oath of office by Hawaii Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald.

The Cabinet is to be sworn in soon after.

Carlisle, who won with 39 percent of the vote, takes over under special circumstances.

He is serving the final two years of the term vacated by Mufi Hannemann, who resigned in July for an unsuccessful run at governor.

Ordinarily, the new mayor would be elected in early November and take office Jan. 2, allowing two months to prepare an agenda and interview potential Cabinet members for the new administration.

But with about half the usual time for a traditional transition -- 23 days to be exact -- Carlisle has spent the past few weeks interviewing and meeting with his predecessor's team of directors and deputies.

His only Cabinet appointment has been that of Doug Chin -- his former first deputy from the prosecutor's office -- as the city's managing director and second-in-command.

"You have to make a decision: Are you going to come in with a guillotine and lop off 10 percent of the people who are here," Carlisle said, "or are you going to build city government around some of the already existing pillars, which include many of the directors who are remarkably talented and have institutional knowledge and are responsible for the nuts and bolts of the operation?

"I would say that right now, it's not my plan to go in there and start cutting off heads -- that just doesn't make sense to me. It should be a smooth, seamless transition to the greatest extent possible with no disruption to the functioning of the city."

That's not to say there won't be any turnover.

Among the more high-profile losses is that of Budget Director Rix Maurer III, who left for another job and whose last day was Friday. Deputy Director Mark Oto, who routinely was seen in City Council chambers detailing and defending the Hannemann administration's fiscal policies alongside Maurer, has left the city for a private-sector job.

Their departures come as Carlisle comes in with an immediate agenda of laying out the city's budget and determining what the city takes in and what it pays out.

Having campaigned on a platform of "getting the city's fiscal house in order," Carlisle will have to demonstrate that right away, said political analyst Neal Milner.

"I think probably the first thing he has to demonstrate is a sense of mastery of how the city runs," said Milner, a professor of political science at the University of Hawaii-Manoa. "How you demonstrate that to people is, I think, probably going over the budget and seeing whether there is this sort of fat you can cut.

"To the extent he ran on anything really as a policy it was about making the mayor's office more efficient. I think one of the things that people are going to be looking for is what kind of steps he's going to make in that direction."

Carlisle has assembled a team -- including acting Budget Director Michael Hansen, the department's internal auditor -- to begin assessing the budget immediately.

"It's got to be put together right now," he said. "I'm going to be responsible for it. It's that simple."

Assuming the job in the middle of the term gives Carlisle little time to set his own policy agenda before having to begin thinking about re-election, Milner said.

"You're always handcuffed when you come in like that because in many ways you've got to make some pretty important decisions based on what your predecessor did," Milner said.

At the top of that category would be rail transit.

Carlisle is on record saying he supports rail, but wants it to be done in a fiscally responsible manner.

Milner said, "Rail was this highly visible issue that Hannemann had to spend so much time keeping visible and moving forward. Carlisle is caught up in that momentum and he's never said that he was against it, so getting on board with that, in a sense, that sets his agenda a lot."

Carlisle said rail is near the top of his short list of "huge issues" facing the city, along with sewers, roads, land development, a landfill and other infrastructure.

"All of those things are extremely significant to the progress of Oahu into the city of this century and the next century," he said.

Carlisle insists the transition has gone smoothly and that acting Mayor Kirk Caldwell has extended every courtesy, despite what was seen as a somewhat chilly reception.

At a joint news conference three days after the election, surrounded by members of the Cabinet, Carlisle spoke of his refusal to accept transition office space at Mission Memorial Auditorium because of the resources required to set it up and the potential smell of asbestos.

A secretary who allowed Peter Carlisle to move personal belongings into the mayor's office was reassigned, and is being brought back to her old job by the new mayor.

Caldwell disputed Carlisle's description of the transition office space and defended the decision to reassign the secretary, saying he felt the City Charter clearly stipulated the office be occupied only by the certified mayor of Honolulu. Caldwell said he had not moved into the office for that very reason.

Carlisle could be seen on television standing behind Caldwell rolling his eyes as the acting mayor spoke.

"Those are the types of things that I'll get criticized for, but the justification for not allowing me to move into an empty office -- that had been vacated for many, many months -- having to do with certification struck me as nonsensical," Carlisle said. "Kirk and I have moved on from that, I think everybody else needs to."


» A secretary who allowed Peter Carlisle to move personal belongings into the mayor's office was reassigned, and is being brought back to her old job by the new mayor. A story on Page A1 Sunday reported she was fired.

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