(BIVN) – The council discussed a controversial audit on Tuesday that called into question county hiring practices.
Hilo councilwoman Sue Lee Loy acknowledged the public perception that “it’s about who you know, and not what you know.”
The legislative auditor found problems with the way the Department of Human Resources chose its new employees. Human resources director Sharon Toriano resigned after the audit was published. Controversy swirled around the report, detailed in a September 9 West Hawaii Today article, which focused on a Staffing Review Committee created under former Mayor Billy Kenoi. The paper delved further:
Enough people told the newspaper about the concept of “POI,” or “person of interest,” that they said is often marked on the “request to hire form” to indicate preferential treatment, that West Hawaii Today in 2015 submitted a public records request under the state Uniform Information Practices Act for two years of forms from the Departments of Parks and Recreation and Public Works.
Councilmembers went over the report with the legislative auditors during Tuesday’s Finance Committee meeting in Hilo. The council wanted to know why and how the auditor chose to sample 46 hires, which uncovered 42 questionable practices.
“The council is not criticizing your report, we are critiquing it,” said councilman Tim Richards.
“I know this is so challenging to talk about,” Lee Loy said, “and I feel that in the room. Everybody’s feeling extremely awkward, right?”
“You know the public is out there thinking something really bad happened, right?” said Hilo councilman Aaron Chung. “I don’t think we’re feeling really awkward, you know. I mean, just let’s throw all the cards on the table over here. We had a human resources director who – at the merit Appeals Board, after a lengthy executive session – resigned, right? And we don’t know what happened in that executive session. But basically, I don’t know what to make of this. I appreciate the hard work, but just tell us. Is there cause for concern? Was there wrongdoing? I mean, just tell us.”
“When you look at the report,” analyst Lane Shibata responded on behalf of auditor Bonnie Nims, who was not present, “it does say that our hiring practices were questionable, and there were some improprieties in the way the candidates were interviewed and selected. If you look at the public perception that’s out there, you know for yourself, that they do question the county’s hiring. We feel that by implementing these recommendations, it should improve the hiring practices.”