Monday, September 21, 2009

OH WHAT SMALL TEETH YOU HAVE GRANDMAMA:

OH WHAT SMALL TEETH YOU HAVE GRANDMAMA: We had our say in Saturday’s local newspaper when reporter Michael Levine asked us what we thought of the appointment of long time Deputy County Clerk Ernie Pasion to the newly created position of county auditor.

As Levine wrote:

(S)ome have said the veteran of county government will have difficulty asserting his independence when it comes to reviewing the performance of people he has worked with in the past.“The idea was to hire somebody totally independent from outside the county,” said Kaua`i government watchdog and blogger Andy Parx in a phone interview Friday, adding that Pasion was the “ultimate insider” and that his appointment was “a huge disappointment.”

“This guy has been a political appointee of the council for 12 years. That’s the only reason he has the job,” Parx said. “I don’t see that he’ll do anything except exactly what the council tells him to do. That’s exactly what he’s done for 12 years, and he serves at their pleasure.”

The article and the Sunday editorial further point to many of the issues we raised with appointment of a long time council sycophant to, for the most part, investigate the actions of county administrative departments.

Perhaps the placement of the auditor position under council services is a fatal flaw- one that the council could not have missed when drafting the measure. But then the position was never designed to investigate the council, even though it could have been.

Our discussion with Levine spurred us to relate the story of how we got to the point where the council put the charter measure on the ballot last November in the first place.

The new county auditor position is not just something that came up recently. Indeed it goes back almost 10 years to the grubbing and grading Pflueger/McCloskey scandal and the year-plus long series of “Developers Gone Wild” oral and video presentations to the council, as the item was continually deferred and so kept on the agenda meeting after meeting.

At that time the council tried to initiate an investigation of the Department of Public Works (DPW) under charter section 3.17- the only allowable “interference” by the council into administrative affairs.

But although people were demanding the investigation the council’s appetite for confrontation was low and when Gary Hooser moved to the state senate the investigation's main proponent was gone. And with a new Mayor- Democrat Bryan Batiste- the democratic council didn’t feel up to investigating the then-past administration of Mayor Maryanne Kusaka.

So instead they bickered over setting up procedures for the investigation after having appropriated a half a million dollars to investigate just a small section of the massive DPW- a move destined to examine select trees but not the forest.

Finally when Mel Rapozo came onto the council, despite his campaign promises to push the investigation he instead pushed for an investigation of the Kaua`i Police Department (KPD) where the past officer had been allowed to quit after his involvement with the lap dancer episode, as detailed in the book KPD Blue (see right rail for the serialization of the book).

After Rapozo allegedly “went off” in the infamous ES-177 and the council and its chair Kaipo Asing decided to fight release of the potential embarrassing content of the meeting, Rapozo suddenly dropped his calls to continue the DPW investigation... an investigation that Asing, who had exposed many of the misdeeds of DPW, had little taste for, calling the suspect DPW personnel “my good friends” at every available opportunity.

While the council switched its attention to the KPD investigating instead of pulling the trigger on the DPW investigation, the public clamor for a DPW investigation continued so the council then appropriated money for a position of a county auditor under council services control and then spent two years doing nothing- seemingly incapable of appointing one.

Finally instead of just appointing an auditor the council decided to kick the can down the road once more by putting the idea of an auditor on the ballot as a charter amendment despite the fact that they had already created the position internally.

At any point during this debacle Pasion could have used his alleged skills to step in and get it done. But that would have taken the political independence that his new job requires.

The position of any performance or “management auditor”- quite different from a financial auditor which is the job of the independent firms that do that every year as the charter requires- is usually filled by someone independent of either the administrative or the legislative branch, not an insider who has developed political relationships with the legislators and the department heads and civil service personnel that may compromise his or her impartiality.

The model people are most familiar with in Hawai`i is state auditor Marion Higa whose scathing analyses of various state departments and programs has shed the light that neither the Legislative Reference Bureau in the legislature or the administration’s ombudsman or other accountability mechanisms within the administration can do since they are generally too enmeshed in the daily machination of government to get a clear view... or more importantly criticize when criticism is due.

The job does not entail simply giving the subject of investigation a pass when the people or entities being investigated object by say “we’re doing the best we can” and present a laundry list of excuses- as they usually do.

Time will certainly tell whether Pasion has the skills for the job- his background is apparently not in management auditing but rather financial audits.

But even if he has the skills or magically obtains them it is doubtful that he can muster the political guts it takes to cut to the chase and issue a biting report about those who his boss Asing still calls “my good friends”- the same ones he declined to investigate when he was mayor last year despite him many “presentations” exposing administration wrongdoing.

Ernie is a nice guy and knows all the players and is pals with all of them. But this position calls for the exact opposite.

The fact is Ernie could have been assisting the council all these past 12 years in investigating and auditing the performance of various administration entitles but has done the opposite- schmoozing and making excuses for their inaction or even corruption- has to put up red flags regarding his appointment.

Some say to give him a chance and obviously we don’t have a choice. But we would have to be idiots to think he can do the job and not think that when the time is up it will not inform the story we’ve told here.

1 comment:

Anon333 said...

Keep this in mind the next time the geezer brigade calls for a County Manager. If a CM is appointed by the Council or serves at their pleasure, we'll get another puppet with a fat paycheck and no real desire to do anything but preserve the status quo.