Thursday, February 5, 2015

Musings: On the Taxpayers' Dime

The long-standing dispute over whether Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. had authority to suspend Police Chief Darryl Perry may be settled by the state Legislature, instead of a judge.

Oahu Sen. Will Espero has introduced SB677, which gives the mayor of each county authority to remove the chief of police “for good and just cause.”

The bill keeps intact a section of the Hawaii Revised Statutes that reads, “A chief of police shall be appointed and may be removed as prescribed by the charter of each county,” but adds the language “provided that the mayor of each county shall also have authority to remove the respective county chief of police for good and just cause.”

“Good and just cause” is not defined.

The bill has been referred to the committees on Public Safety, Intergovernmental and Military Affairs and Judiciary and Labor, but no hearings have yet been scheduled.

As you may recall, the mayor suspended the chief in early 2012 after a police officer claimed that the chief had ignored her workplace harassment complaints. The police commission challenged that action in court, contending that panel had sole authority to hire, fire and discipline the chief.

Circuit Judge Randal Valenciano upheld the mayor's action, and the police commission is appealing that ruling.

Speaking of legal action, I recently spent some time digging into the mess at the Auditor's office, which has been essentially dead in the water for the past two years, though still sucking down money. 

Former staff auditor Ron Rawls filed a whistle-blower complaint [corrected from "lawsuit"] against the county over the actions of his former boss, County Auditor Ernie Pasion. And Pasion filed his own complaint against the county and former Council Chair Jay Furfaro over the manini punishment meted out for his bad behavior.

As part of that legal tangle, the Council, which oversees the Auditor's office, hired Honolulu attorney Lynn Toyofuku to conduct a fact-finding investigation into Rawls' complaint.

As I've previously reported, Rawls contends Pasion and former Prosecutor Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho doctored a county fuel audit investigative report to make the their political enemy, the mayor, look bad. We're still seeing the fallout from that as the mayor's misinformed enemies — people like Dustin Barca, Ken Taylor, Glenn Mickens and Mike Sheehan — futilely fan the flames of “fuel gate.”

Rawls says he was harassed by Pasion when he spoke up, prompting him to file a hostile workplace complaint in June 2012. After that, Rawls says, he was subjected to illegal retaliation and ultimately banished to a small, windowless office with no work assignments for five months. He resigned effective Jan. 7, 2013.

Rawls also maintains that Pasion refused to authorize an investigation into allegations that Iseri-Carvalho and her first deputy, Jake Delaplane, were using misusing county vehicles and gas.

Pasion, meanwhile, is suing the county for medical and legal costs because the Council “held the threat of termination” over his head, “disrupting his ability to perform his duties as auditor.” Apparently unable to legally fire him, the Council disciplined him with a letter of reprimand in his file and ordered a one-week suspension, a 120-day probation period followed by an evaluation, and an ongoing quarterly assessment by an “audit review committee.”

That supposedly caused Pasion such extreme stress that he took a medical leave. Rawls has been gone since January 2013, leaving the office unable to conduct an audit. So for the last two years, the Auditor's office has been doing nothing but burning taxpayer cash.

Meanwhile, the county is spending more taxpayer money defending against Pasion's claims. A redacted version of Toyofuku's report has been filed in court, providing a disturbing glimpse into the pettiness, back-biting, retaliation, childishness, political payback and unprofessionalism that has characterized the county Auditor's office — all on the taxpayers' dime.

Toyofuku notes that when Pasion was questioned about how he handled the anonymous complaint that Shay and Jake were using county vehicles on personal time his answers were “evasive, vague, non-responsive and inconsistent... raising serious doubts as to his credibility on certain events/decisions.”

The report also details conversations Toyofuku had with Auditor office staff. It includes Rawls' claim that the Kauai Auditor's office “was the poorest managed audit department he'd ever worked in,” plagued with low productivity and minimal oversight, such as Pasion allowing Lani Nakazawa — the former county attorney who was named Pasion's assistant — to work unsupervised in Honolulu for six months.

Voters approved the creation of an Auditor's office in an effort to obtain more accountability in county government. As I've previously reportedthe Council had just three applicants for the auditor's job: Pasion and Nakazawa (both county insiders), and a CPA who showed up drunk for his interview. Rather than re-post the vacancy, or mo bettah, broaden the search, the Council chose Ernie, even though he had no background in government audits and lacks the CPA/CIP license required to conduct them. Pasion is paid $114,848 annually. Nakazawa was named his assistant, and paid a salary and overtime topping $100,000 annually.

Pasion's six-year term ends this year. Hopefully this time around the Council can find someone who is actually qualified for the job and not politically aligned with any of the folks he/she is supposed to investigate.  That way, taxpayers might get something for their money, other than additional legal expenses.


Anonymous said...

This mess is what happens when people refuse to step back and breath the sweet air. Ernie is a good man. Always has been. The red-hot issue of GasGate made every one touchy. I think EVERYONE was taking gas. I think everyone has been taking gas for decades. Big Deal, so what?
In the old days GasGate would have been buried. Ernie would have kept his job and time would have healed the wounds.
Time heals all wounds, except when you take a Cop's gun away. The Mayor and Judge V are way out in outer space. THE POLICE COMMISSION must recommend firing or discipline. The Commissions are all set up that way. The Mayor overstepped, the Judge fell in place...the Chief was gunless. Bad juju for all. And Bottom Line...The Mayor is a great Mayor, the Chief is the Bestest and Judge Valenciano is a fair, smart, no-nonsense judge. What went wrong?
These three should be BFFs as they are all pillars of society.
But don't burn wood in your fireplace this frosty morning. It might be against the law soon. And why does Wallmart have such a huge BarbaQue section? I guess that cooking that Corn fed beef is important to Kauai.

Anonymous said...

Rawls Neva filed suit.

Joan Conrow said...

Thanks. I corrected it to complaint.

Anonymous said...

Joan - Love your blog, but can you look into what's going on with our state highways. I noticed that they are about to pave the highway from Hanapepe to Waimea. I could not find any patches or potholes in that area as opposed to the area from Maluhia to Puhi that has a lot of patches. Also, what's the status of the four lanes from Puhi to Maluhia? I'm sure you can find out the truth.

Anonymous said...

7:26 am. "Ernie is a good man..." Yeah, right. He just had a complete lapse of morals for the past five years. Then tried to sue the county because of his incompetence and misdeeds. Did you even read the report? Give me a break.

Anonymous said...

I think you are mistaken that only three people applied for the auditor's position. It may be that only three people were interviewed for the position. But I know for a fact that there was at least one very qualified applicant who never heard back from the county.

Anonymous said...

Kaipo Asing created the process that only left a choice between two of his "people"

Anonymous said...

Maybe Kaipo Asing, the Council Chair, did not want a qualified Auditor for the County.

Anonymous said...

Get rid of the mayor and his appointees. Problem solved.