Kealii Lopez, newly appointed director of the state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, had served since 2004 as president and chief executive officer of ‘Olelo Community Media, the nonprofit that runs six public-access channels on Oceanic Cable.
» Age: 49
As head of DCCA, Lopez will be responsible for promoting a healthy business environment while protecting the community from unfair and deceptive business practices. Her appointment is subject to confirmation by the state Senate. She replaces Ron Boyer, who had been director of DCCA since March.
At ‘Olelo, Lopez oversaw the expansion of its media centers — which offer video production training — from three to seven at Oahu public schools, many of which are in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods.
"She had a real passion for the role of ‘Olelo, its potential and actual function as part of the process of bringing forth community programming, and also increasing access to government processes and procedures," said ‘Olelo board member Gerald Sumida, chairman of the corporate and business practice group at Carlsmith Ball LLP.
Lopez said she was "moved and excited by the momentum of the Abercrombie administration and wanted to see if there was a way that I could contribute."
She described her biggest challenge at DCCA as stabilizing current operations while expanding and improving services through collaborations with government, national affiliate organizations, local businesses and nonprofit organizations.
Among her attributes, colleagues say, is her ability to lead, organize and motivate people, true to her Hawaiian name Kealii, meaning chief or ruler.
"She has a good ability to work with all types of diverse community members," said Melissa Pavlicek, who has known Lopez for about five years as an ‘Olelo board member and state director of the National Federation of Independent Business. "She’s very good at bridging different types of communities, due mainly to her communication skills."
Described as a passionate advocate of transparency and public access, Lopez has invited community members to speak at board meetings, giving them as much time as they needed to express themselves, Pavlicek said.
Lopez is a skilled manager, Pavlicek said.
"She has been able to supervise a fairly large staff under very difficult economic times," Pavlicek said. "Being a nonprofit organization, we had some severe financial challenges, including renegotiation of lease rent. She handled all of that with composure. You want your leader to be a steady hand, and I think that’s the case with Kealii.
"I’ve seen her in situations where there’s lots of emotions running high, people get angry, but she’s very calm and polite and has a lot of integrity. She’s always one that’s willing to listen."
The Kaiser High School graduate received a bachelor’s degree in communication from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Before she became president and CEO, she worked as chief operating officer of ‘Olelo, as well as associate executive director through the 1990s.
Marsha Bolson, an ‘Olelo board member and director of new media at Kamehameha Schools, said Lopez’s strongest characteristic is her dedication to the community, calling her a "real advocate and champion for the community’s rights and abilities to use community television."
"She feels very strongly about strong communities," said Bolson, who has worked with Lopez over the past seven years.
The state Senate must approve Lopez’s appointment, and the question of a conflict of interest could arise since ‘Olelo has public-access contracts with DCCA, which determines how much money is allocated to each public, educational and governmental access television operator on the four major islands. A portion of Oceanic subscribers’ bills is designated to fund the public access channels.
The state attorney general’s office has reviewed the issue along with Lopez. Both separately sought an opinion from the state Ethics Commission, which does not see a problem with the appointment, according to James Nagle, deputy attorney general.
According to Nagle, the Ethics Commission said "so long as (Lopez) severed all ties, has no substantial financial interest, is not an officer or director, then it’s probably OK for her to act even in matters relating to ‘Olelo."