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Dr. Claire Tuia Poumele sails through Senate — unanimous vote

The Senate Thursday in a unanimous vote of 15-0 confirmed the appointment of Taimalelagi Dr. Claire Tuia Poumele as director of the Department of Port Administration, after a hearing before the Senate Transportation, Port, Airport Committee chaired by Sen. Letuligasenoa Soli, questioned her on her lack of qualifications and experience in maritime and air transportation areas.She will appear next Wednesday before the House Transportation Committee for her confirmation hearing with a full House membership vote expected the following day. Taimalelagi, a former Education Department director from the Togiola Administration, holds among other degrees and certifications, a doctorate degree in education from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. Her master’s of education and bachelor of science in secondary education degrees are from the University of Portland.According to the governor, in his letter to the Fono leadership of her nomination, “Dr. Poumele’s leadership abilities and management style will be an asset to the Department of Port Administration I am confident that she will bring a fresh perspective, a keen eye for efficiency, superb judgment, and the ability to effectively complete projects for the department.” Many of the senators who spoke during the 45-minute hearing acknowledged the nominee’s educational background is unquestioned, and if she is fully confirmed by the Fono, they told her to do right for the people of American Samoa and look after the staff. A QUESTION OF QUALIFICATIONS AND EXPERIENCE Taimalelagi said she is “very honored” to be given the directorship of Port Administration, which gives her another chance to continue her service to the people of American Samoa. This was her basic answer to questions about her qualifications and experience in areas of port administration.Sen. Mauga T. Asuega was the first to ask the question, saying he raised the issue because it is being talked about in the community ever since her appointment became public. The nominee acknowledged it’s true there is a lot of talk as to why an educator is appointed to oversee Port Administration. She spoke of recently meeting with the senior management team of Port Administration and speaking truthfully to them about her background as an educator and that she sees herself leading a department that has a management team that are the most experienced in the field of engineers, captains and other professionals who deal with both ports and airports.The management team, includes deputy director Chris King, and Taimalelagi noted that some of them were former students during her years as an educator. She said Port Administration plays a vital role in the economic development of the territory, because it oversees the port of entries for vessels, ships and passengers into American Samoa, and said her contribution as a leader and director is to further improve the department, which has made a lot of improvements in the past because of the current excellent management team and staff.Taimalelagi reiterated that the current staff and management team are well qualified and have done a great job for the department and the government. She said her role as a director will be to continue looking ahead to the future and working together with the staff. “So why did I accept the post?” she asked, and then replied that she still wants to continue to serve the people and government. Additionally, she cares a lot for the staff, who are among the best in the ASG work force; adding that during her tenure at DOE, Taimalelagi said she also cared very much about the well-being of the staff. Sen. Faumuina Tagisiaali’i, who had been involved with port work for many years prior to his retirement a few years ago, told the nominee that if she is confirmed to make sure that all maritime laws, U.S. Coast Guard regulations and other federal laws are followed. Faumuina then suggested that Port Administration look at relocating the main ECE Center next to the Fuel Dock to another site. He said the ECE is too close to the fuel dock and this is a concern to him if there is any ammonia leaks from the fuel dock or vessels along the main Port of Pago Pago, which could affect the students. In a brief light hearted moment during the hearing, Letuligasenoa, who was a close friend and colleague to Taimalelagi’s father, the late Sen. Tuanaitau Tuia, asked her if she knew how to steer a boat? She replied, “no”. He then asked her if she knew how to fly a plane? She replied, “fealolo fo’i” (kind of…).During the hearing, several port senior personnel, including King and Capt. Silila Patane, were in the Senate gallery, which was noted by Sen. Magalei Logovi’i, who asked Taimalelagi if all of her senior staff sitting in the Senate gallery took the required leave to be absent from their jobs to attend the hearing — she said, “yes.”