(BIVN) – The Hawaiʻi County Council voted on Wednesday to fund an Independent Whistle Blower Program, using $25,000 from the previous year’s fund balance.
“I’m drawing on the fund balance. I just noticed that there was an increase over the current fiscal year by about $5 million dollars,” said Puna Councilmember Ashley Kierkiewicz, who introduced the measure during the initial discussion on approving the fiscal year 2019-2020 budget. “I saw this as an opportunity to fund something really critical that was pointed out in a report by the legislative auditor in November 2017, and that was the implementation of a whistleblower program. I’m sure you all have received anonymous letters and calls from the public, and even county employees sharing their concerns. This would create a space for people to be able to report and share these concerns and issues that they may have without fear of retaliation.”
William Brilhante, the director of the Department of Human Resources, worked with Kierkiewicz to create the beginnings of the plan. “We’re one of the few jurisdictions that doesn’t have this type of program in place already,” Brilhante said.
Brilhante said a third-party, independent service provider would monitor an established hotline, “where any of the county employees or members of the public could come in and report an issue or a problem. So it’s 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days a year.”
“In addition to that, when the complaint comes in, there’s always the issue as to – is this a real complaint, or is it bogus?” Brilhante continued. “Part of this service that the vendor would provide is that they go and they conduct the initial investigation and they just do a cursory review of the problem, because what we hear is – like on Oʻahu – oftentimes under the city and county they get numerous complaints because of potholes on the road. Obviously that’s something that should be addressed from a governmental standpoint, and so those complaints are forwarded to the appropriate departments. But the more substantial issues are if there’s any complaint regarding, maybe, some type of alleged or potential malfeasance. Those are the ones that we want to make sure we’re able to address.”
Councilmember Matt Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder asked “when they call up, and there is an issue, who then takes care of it?”
“That’s the next step that we’re investigating right now,” Brilhante said, noting that he has a meeting scheduled with the Hawaiʻi County Prosecutor and the Legislative Auditor to discuss that aspect of the proposal.
“My only concern was the funding source,” said Council Chair Aaron Chung. However, he added that “Ms. Kierkiewicz has done her homework and I applaud her for that. It’s really a small amount, $25,000. I think we’re gonna be able to handle it.”
The Council would later approve two additional uses of the Fund Balance from Previous Year: one for a $270,000 increase to the Council’s Contingency Relief account, and another to provide a West Hawaiʻi golf subsidy. Big Island Video News will feature video of those discussions later this evening, as well as a video showing an overview of the budget process.