Kudos to Hawaii County Councilwoman Brenda Ford for taking legal action challenging the qualifications of Bobby Jean Leithead Todd to serve as the county’s director of environmental management.
Leithead Todd previously held the position in 2007-2008, but in 2010 voters approved an amendment to the county charter requiring specific qualifications for the job.
The charter now provides “the director shall have had a minimum of five years of administrative experience in a related field and an engineering degree or a degree in a related field.”
Leithead Todd, a lawyer and a familiar political “go-to” figure in the county, has neither an engineering degree nor any background in a related scientific field.
Her legal credentials and experience would appear to meet the initial qualification–”five years of administrative experience in a related field”. But that’s not enough, according to the charter. In addition, the director must have “an engineering degree or a degree in a related field.”
Ford’s initial lawsuit was dismissed on a technicality, but is expected to be refiled soon.
Look. I know it’s commonly believed that lawyers know best, or at least are politically safe because they know how to cover their rears.
But legal experience does not provide subject matter expertise. And that was apparently in the minds of voters when they approved the engineer “or eqrelated” requirement.
Would you hire a lawyer experienced in medical malpractice cases as your surgeon? Most people would quickly say “no.” One set of skills is not the equivalent of the other, although they are in some sense related.
Then why let a law degree substitute for an engineering degree? It only makes sense in political terms.
And need I point out that lawyers don’t have the same openness about people without law degrees acting as lawyers, no matter the extent of their related experience and education.
And unfortunately this is an all too familiar situation, where short term political interests sidestep public interest reforms approved by voters. We’ve faced the same situation here in Honolulu on several occasions where department heads were approved despite failing to meet minimum qualifications.
So many thanks to Councilwoman Ford for stepping up and taking action. She deserves support in her efforts.