Darryl Oliveira, an experienced emergency leader with a calming presence, came from the Big Island in the early weeks of the wildfires’ response to serve as interim administrator of the Maui Emergency Management Agency following the abrupt resignation of embattled administrator Herman Andaya.
Among Oliveira’s efforts was leading the creation of an orderly and safe reentry plan to the approximately five-square-mile burn area of Lahaina, and then to implement that plan as quickly as possible, with empathy for the survivors.
But Oliveira’s 89-day contract, which began Aug. 28, comes to an end on Nov. 25. And although Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen said he has been trying to get Oliveira to extend his contract, Oliveira said on Wednesday night that he needs to return home to his family.
“My other half and my kids are shouldering the burden now,” the 62-year-old said.
Oliveira and his wife have a blended family with six kids, including four minors aged 8, 10, 13 and 17.
Maui County’s search for Andaya’s permanent replacement began shortly after his resignation on Aug. 17, nine days after the fires.
Said Bissen: “Darryl was never meant to be permanent.”
The permanent administrator’s job was posted on the Maui County website, with applications closing on Tuesday. According to the Maui County Department of Personnel Services, 15 people applied for the job that pays between $92,184 and $131,460 per year.
The county has not yet formalized the process for selecting the administrator among the candidates.
When Andaya was hired in 2017, from a pool of 40 applicants, it was a non-political appointment filled through the civil service process. Personnel Services oversaw the recruitment process, which is governed by the State of Hawaiʻi civil service laws.
Also in 2017, a “list of eligibles” was created based on a score from a three-hour written examination and forwarded to a selection committee comprised of the Maui Police Department Chief Tivoli Faaumu, Maui Fire Department Chief Jeff Murray, Elton Ushio, Administrator of the Kauaʻi Emergency Management Agency and Vern Miyagi, Administrator of the Hawaiʻi State Emergency Management Agency. (Only Ushio holds the same job.)
This time, a selection committee also is expected to be put together.
Bissen said he would like Oliveira to take part in the selection process. Oliveira has served as fire chief and the Civil Defense Director for Hawaiʻi County.
The Hawaiʻi State Emergency Management Agency does not have a formal official role in selecting an emergency management administrator for Maui, but it could serve in an advisory role if asked by Maui County. So far, HI-EMA has not been formally asked, said Adam Weintraub, the state agency’s communications director.
It is not clear how long the process will take.
“If we can have somebody on board before Darryl leaves, that would be ideal,” Bissen said.
Oliveira said the timing for a transition would work out well, as the response role of the Maui Emergency Management Agency for the wildfires is winding down.
“The reason why we’ve kept reentry in the emergency or response phase is because there’s still life safety issues,” Oliveira said. “Buildings are collapsing, and there’s still air quality issues.
“But once we get into debris removal, I feel comfortable saying we’re in recovery and that’s when the Recovery Office will take a more lead role. So basically once the hazmat assessments are done in Lahaina.”
Those assessments by the US Environmental Protection Agency are expected to be completed by early December, although the US Army Corps of Engineers also conducts its own hazardous material site assessments before debris removal begins.
Oliveira said it was a Friday when he got the call from Bissen, who asked him if he would consider being the interim administrator. He told Bissen he needed the weekend to discuss it with his family.
The last time a mayor asked him to “temporarily” fill an emergency management position, Oliveira said it turned into three years as Director of the Hawaiʻi Civil Defense Agency.
On that Sunday, he called to say he would do it.
“We cannot say no,” he said about the decision with his family. “If we can help. We should help. But I told him, I’m not doing another multi-year contract.”