The Rev. David J. Gierlach
Rev. David J. Gierlach is replacing Denise Wise as chairman

BY JIM DOOLEY – Denise Wise has resigned as executive director of the Hawaii Public Housing Authority, continuing a pattern of turmoil at the top of an agency that oversees more than 6,000 residential units in more than 80 aging housing projects around the state.

Wise took office early last year, replacing another executive, Chad Taniguchi, who had held the post for less than four years. The agency has had eight directors in 14 years.

“It has been my honor and privilege to serve the staff of the HPHA, our residents and to call this beautiful state home,” Wise said. Her resignation is effective Oct. 12.

David Gierlach, board chairman of HPHA, said the agency’s executive assistant, Barbara Arashiro, will serve as interim director until a replacement is selected.

A special meeting of the HPHA board will be held Oct. 6 to discuss recruitment of a replacement for Wise.

Gierlach said Wise resigned for personal reasons.

The board of directors recently completed an annual performance evaluation of Wise and Arashiro.

Gierlach declined to discuss those evaluations but said the board had “not requested” Wise’s resignation.

While heading HPHA, Wise oversaw oversaw a major initiative to redevelop the state’s largest public housing complex, Kuhio Park Terrace/Kuhio Homes, in the Kalihi neighborhood of Honolulu.

She was also buffeted by complaints about HPHA’s long-delayed efforts to fix shortages of hot water at Mayor Wright Homes, another large public housing project in Honolulu.

Residents at Mayor Wright publicly demonstrated at the Legislature this years to protest the chronic shortage of hot water in many of the units at the complex.

State Auditor Marion Higa also issued a lengthy management audit of HPHA in June that criticized the agency for lax oversight of its housing inventory.

Wise came to HPHA after serving as a public housing director in Gunnison Colorado.

She inherited a host of problems that have plagued the public housing agency for decades.

In 2002, when the agency was called the Housing and Community Development Corp. of Hawaii, the federal government forced the agency’s then-director and its entire board of directors to resign for mismanagement of money and exposing the government to “waste and abuse.”

Gierlach acknowledged today that recruiting a qualified and capable replacement for Wise will be difficult, given the limited budget for the position.

State law pegs the pay for the job at just under $88,000.

The HPHA board has recently addressed demands from the federal government that the salaries of housing directors be established only after a comparison with executive pay at similar housing agencies around the country.

Gierlach said that federal edict was handed down “after it came out that some of these executives were making well into six-figure salaries.”

In Hawaii, the situation “is just the opposite,” said Gierlach.

Any adjustments to executive compensation at HPHA would have to be approved by the Legislature next year.

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Jim Dooley joined the Hawaii Reporter staff as an investigative reporter in October 2010. Before that, he has worked as a print and television reporter in Hawaii since 1973, beginning as a wire service reporter with United Press International. He joined Honolulu Advertiser in 1974, working as general assignment and City Hall reporter until 1978. In 1978, he moved to full-time investigative reporting in for The Advertiser; he joined KITV news in 1996 as investigative reporter. Jim returned to Advertiser 2001, working as investigative reporter and court reporter until 2010. Reach him at Jim@hawaiireporter.com