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Ford v. Leithead-Todd

Intermediate Court of Appeals of Hawaii

September 8, 2016

BRENDA J. FORD, Petitioner-Appellant,
v.
BOBBY JEAN LEITHEAD-TODD, Respondent-Appellee

         APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE THIRD CIRCUIT (S.P. NO. 13-1-52K)

         On the briefs:

          Michael J. Matsukawa for Petitioner-Appellant.

          Laureen L. Martin Deputy Corporation Counsel Section Chief, Office of the Corporation Counsel, County of Hawai'i for Respondent-Appellee.

          FOLEY, PRESIDING JUDGE, FUJISE AND LEONARD, JJ.

          OPINION

          FOLEY, J.

         Petitioner-Appellant Brenda J. Ford (Ford) appeals from (1) the "Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Order Granting Respondent Bobby Jean Leithead-Todd's Motion for Summary Judgment in Favor of Respondent on the Verified Petition of Brenda J. Ford for an Order in the Nature of Quo Warranto Directing the Respondent Bobby Jean Leithead-Todd to Show the Authority Under Which She Purports to Hold the Office of Director of the Department of Environmental Management for the County of Hawai'i Filed December 9, 2013" (FOF/COL) entered on May 26, 2015;

         (2) the "Order Denying Petitioner Brenda J. Ford's Motion for Reconsideration of [the FOF/COL]", entered on July 6, 2015; and

         (3) the "Final Judgment" entered on July 6, 2015 in the Circuit Court of the Third Circuit[1] (circuit court).

         The subject of Ford's petition and the dispute on appeal is whether Leithead-Todd has "an engineering degree or a degree in a related field" to qualify her to hold the office of the Director of the Department of Environmental Management.

         On appeal, Ford contends the circuit court erred in: (1) concluding that the 2010 Charter Commission rather than the voters of the County of Hawai'i had amended the Charter of the County of Hawai'i (CCH); (2) applying agency deference to the decisions of the Hawai'i County Council (County Council) and the Hawai'i County Mayor (Mayor) and an "abuse of discretion" standard of review; (3) deferring to the opinion of the County's counsel; (4) placing the burden of proof on Ford as the Petitioner; (5) concluding that the 2010 amendment to the CCH was ambiguous; (6) concluding that the 2010 Charter Commission granted the Mayor and County Council wide latitude to interpret the language "degree in a related field"; (7) failing to interpret the language of the 2010 amendment; and (8) denying Ford's motion for reconsideration.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In 2000, the CCH was amended to include a chapter on the Department of Environmental Management. CCH Chapter 5 (2006). The CCH stated that the Director of the Department of Environmental Management "shall have had a minimum of five years' administrative experience in a related field." CCH § 6-5.3.

         In 2010, the County of Hawai'i Charter Commission (Commission) proposed an amendment to the CCH to add a "degree requirement" to the existing qualifications for Director of the Department of Environmental Management. The Commission deliberated the amendment prior to seeking the public's approval. At a meeting on September 11, 2009, the commissioners[2] evaluated the language of the amendment:

CHR. HAITSUKA: Is there any discussion on Mr. Tyson's[3]request to amend the Charter to reflect that the Director of the Department of Environmental Management would be required to have some type of engineering degree?
MR. UNGER: I know we have had this discussion before about us micro-managing county titles and the requirements for people assuming these positions, but if ever a department screams out for a professional degree, this might very well be it. I don't know what you guys think, but I understand if we address this, we might be opening up a can of worms and have to address qualifications for the other departments as well, but I think this is unique and honestly I'm kind of in favor of it.
MR. SHUMWAY: Alapaki has spoken persuasively about not putting all of these details in the Charter, but I agree with Scott on this, that especially because this is coming from the department themselves. They are asking for this, and that speaks loudly for me, and I would support it as well .
CHR. HAITSUKA: Ms. Jarman.
MS. JARMAN: I'm not convinced it needs to be an Engineering degree, but maybe a degree in a related field. They are basically saying you want the person to be an engineer, but I'm not convinced it needs to be an engineer, but that in a related field would make more sense to me.
MR. UNGER: The current language says, ". . . administrative experience in a related field." So, are you suggesting maybe a degree in a related field as opposed to experience?
MS. JARMAN: Experience and a degree, if that's what he is trying to get at. I can see somebody with some kind of environmental background that could equally do a good job, without having to be an engineer.
MR. UNGER: Yes, there are all kinds of different degrees out there that could pertain to this type of situation. That makes sense as well.
CHR. HAITSUKA: We could say, ". . .a degree in engineering or a related field[."] The related field would have to be related to something, so I think we have to have the word engineering in there, so it doesn't disqualify someone who has an engineering degree.
MR. UNGER: So a degree in engineering or a degree in a related field?
MS. JARMAN: Related to what? Related to engineering, or related to the environment? That's why I don't see why we would have to say engineering. If we just say a related field, it would include engineering and any other field.
MS. OSBORNE: I would concur with that.
CHR. HAITSUKA: The related field would be related to what?
MS. JARMAN: To the duties of the Department of Environmental Management.

         At the January 21, 2010 Commission meeting, Tyson addressed the Commission on the proposed amendment:

CHR. HAITSUKA: Mr. Tyson, you submitted some communication to us regarding your recommendations. Is that correct?
MR. TYSON: Yes, that is correct. The testimony that I submitted was basically in opposition to the current amendment which adds an additional to the minimum of five years of administrative experience in a related field; so that the ...

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