Michele McLean: A commitment to public service
*Editor’s Note*: This is the first in a series of profiles of Mayor Michael Victorino’s appointees to Maui County department head positions. The Maui County Council will begin taking up Mayor Victorino’s nomination’s Wednesday, Jan. 23., in the Governance, Ethics and Transparency Committee.
For acting Department of Planning Director Michele Chouteau McLean municipal planning isn’t just about churning out land-use permits.
“If affects everyone’s lives because the result of planning is our existing built environment,” she said.
Planning determines view planes; the heights, sizes and density of buildings; the distance of structures to sidewalks and roadways; and whether commercial or residential development will occur in carefully planned communities.
McLean grew up in small towns, rural communities in Connecticut and Pennsylvania. Her undergraduate studies took her to Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. There, she earned a bachelor’s degree in political science.
After college, she worked in staff positions in Congress. Then, she was drawn to Maui to live near her father and step-mother, moving here in 1994. She worked for four years as a legislative analyst with the Maui County Office of Council Services. Then, she launched a planning, governmental and public relations consulting business, Chouteau Consulting. After running her business and a year of graduate studies with the University of Phoenix, she became a land use planner with Smith Development before returning to government service as deputy director and policy adviser for the Kaho’olawe Island Reserve Commission in 2005.
She was intrigued by the commission’s ultimate objective of returning the island reserve to a Native Hawaiian sovereign entity once one is created.
“As a poli-sci major, this was intellectually fascinating to me,” she said. “But what has kept me involved are the people: the staff, the commissioners and the volunteers and others who are able to go to Kahoolawe for restoration projects, cultural practices, marine debris removals -- no one goes to Kahoolawe and returns unchanged. Especially, Native Hawaiians can freely connect with their culture (some for the first time). Being able to support or facilitate that is profoundly meaningful.”
Now, McLean serves as the commission chairwoman, a position she has held since May 2011. From 2011 to present, she has served as deputy director and director of the Department of Planning. She oversees four divisions and 68 personnel who process administrative and discretionary land-use permits. She has frequently represented the department before the County Council and before various boards and commissions, including the Maui Planning Commission.
“My heart is really in public service,” she said, a commitment that came from her grandfather.
“He was a doctor who was forced by a heart attack to move to Florida in an early retirement,” she said. “Not one to waste his time and talent, he helped start the ‘Senior Friendship Center’ to provide free medical screenings and basic medical care to low-income seniors. He found others like himself -- retired doctors, nurses, dentists -- with time on their hands and a desire to give back. He served as the medical director for decades. He passed away several years ago, but the place is still running strong.”
McLean’s community involvement includes service on the boards of directors for the Paia Town Association and the Maui Food Bank.