Monday, September 6, 2010

MUZZLED AGAIN (Part 1)

MUZZLED AGAIN (Part 1): When. business editor at the local newspaper Coco Zickos was unceremoniously fired for not kow-towing enough to the business community- as PNN exclusively reported a month ago- we knew changes were probably in the works.

It wouldn’t be the first time advertisers clamped down on content they didn’t want people to see as PNN reported on it’s Parxist Conspiracy television newsmagazine in the late 1990’s.

But little did we suspect it might be the beginning of the wholesale censoring of Kaua`i based news that reflects poorly on some the islands biggest “industries”.

Yet at least twice in the last week, while other news outlets have reported on stories of alleged illegal activities on the island the local newspaper has remained silent.

The first, as you might suspect if you read our Aug. 26 post regarding the “Informational Briefing” led by Senate Ways and Means Chair Donna Mercado Kim investigating, among other things, is about, as the agenda said, the

a. Status of the employee embezzlement investigation

b. Explanation of the overpayment, reinstatement, and settlement of the employee that walked off the job

c. Status of the Mitigation of TSA (Transportation Security Administration) fines on Kauai – mitigation

d. Costs to the State, airlines, and travelers from the security breach at Lihue Airport on September 11, 2009

(e) Grove Farm – status of the helipad expansion and status of information requested by the Committee in letter dated July 22, 2010, regarding enhancements to the access points for the Grove Farm land , the value and costs of the enhancements, and whether an enhancement fee was negotiated as part of the contract

You’d think that the paper would have at least watched the hearing on line if not sent someone to the hearing that could negatively effect tourism, the biggest industry on the island. Or maybe they could have just read the stories at the KITV web site which is apparently the only news outlet that covered the hearing.

In the first of two articles- which are much more comprehensive than the video report also available at their web site- they described how, as the headline says

Kauai Airport Supervisor Fired For Theft
She Was Put On Leave With Pay After Admitting To Stealing

The article itself reveals

A supervisor at Lihue Airport who admitted to stealing thousands of dollars in an embezzlement case has been fired after state transportation officials put her on leave with pay for nearly two months while they investigated the case.

The state transportation director admitted Tuesday what employees have complained about for years: that there's a management problem at Lihue Airport.

Sources told KITV 4 News a business services supervisor at Lihue Airport, who oversees four other people, admitted to stealing about $13,000 from the state over several months. Some of it was money that airline employees, vendors and others pay for annual airport security badges.

The state placed her on leave with pay after she admitted to airport officials in writing to the theft in early July, according to Sidney Hayakawa, an administrative services officer with the state department of transportation.

The woman, who has not yet been charged with a crime, kept collecting her paycheck for nearly two months until she was fired Thursday, he said.

Though KITV- and apparently those at the hearing- did not name the employee, by simply cross-referencing mentions of the employee’s position in earlier article with the listing at the DOT web site one of PNN's investigators has deduced the employee’s name is Finance Director Maycia Matsuyoshi.

Kim was apparently incredulous, not only at the embezzlement but at Matsuyoshi’s treatment after being caught.

"Why would she be put on leave with pay?” Kim asked during a hearing Tuesday at the state capitol.

"Because we wanted her to be available to come back, because we needed to re-interview her. And that's what's happening right now, the AGs have to re-interview her and she was available to them," Hayakawa said.

"You still have to go through an investigation and you have to verify that wrongdoing is evident and had occurred," said State Transportation Director Brennon Morioka, noting that even people who’ve admitted wrongdoing deserve due process.

Airport records show the woman was paid anywhere from $35,000 to $54,000 a year. Hayakawa said officials could have put her on unpaid leave while they investigated, but they chose not to.

The report also says KITV “found four small claims judgments against the woman since 1998.”

But that incident isn’t all the committee investigated. It goes on to say:

There are other problems at Lihue airport. It was the only airport in Hawaii to pay security fines to the Transportation Security Administration recently. Lihue paid $75,000 worth of security fines to the TSA for 15 security lapses between March of 2009 and 2010.

"The management at Kauai airport seems to be problematic. And this is just one more, on top of all the issues we've seen on Kauai," Kim said.

In another incident, an airport operations controller frustrated with management at Lihue walked off the job in late 2008 and no one bothered to notify personnel officials to stop his paycheck for weeks, so he was overpaid about $5,000.

Earlier this year, he was allowed to return to work at the airport, keeping the extra $5,000 in overpaid salary and 880 hours of accrued sick leave.

If they could rewind the situation “we would have looked at recouping the money for his salary overpayment,” Morioka said....

“It seems to me they could do a reality show at Kauai Airport,” said State Sen. Sam Slom (R-Hawaii Kai, Diamond Head, Kahala).

Want more?

In another incident, airport manager George Crabbe lost track of two people he was escorting behind security checkpoints on Sept. 11, 2009, resulting in the Lihue airport terminal being evacuated and shut down and passengers re-screened.

That disrupted scheduled flights on Kauai. “In spite of my personal embarrassment of being the cause of the disruption, the alternative of not taking this step to ensure terminal safety would have been worse,” Crabbe wrote in a statement to his superiors at the DOT.


“I take sole responsibility for the events that led to this disruption and I cannot fully express the mortification and regret my momentary lapse of attention caused,” Crabbe said in the statement.

The second article deals with the resignation of former Deputy Transportation Director Brian Sekiguchi who is now involved in an ethics probe for allegedly “accepting free tickets from an airport vendor to attend the Masters golf tournament in Augusta, Ga., in April of 2009 (and) not put(ting) in for vacation leave for one day of that same April vacation.”

But late in the article it refers back to what apparently caused Sekiguchi to resign three weeks ago saying:

Several other incidents and problems raised questions about the management of the airports division, which Sekiguchi oversaw since 2003 before resigning in August.

On July 27, state Procurement Office Administrator Aaron Fujioka found the state Department of Transportation violated procurement law when it hired two airport security consultants through Securitas Security Services USA, an airport security contractor.

The incident was previously reported to involve dealings with former county Finance Director Mike Tressler, now a vice president at Grove Farm which handsomely profited by the overpayment which paid out more than double what the property was really worth.

Tomorrow in part 2 we’ll let you know about an even bigger blockbuster ignored by the local “news”paper- one that could have severe repercussions that bode ill for the future of agriculture on Kaua`i.

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It’s time to send letter to stop Linda Lingle’s lame duck attempt to make horrendous wholesale changes to the conservation district rule which the Department of Land and Natural Resources is proposing. Go to Marti Townsend’s KAHEA website for a handy-dandy way to do so.

2 comments:

Eleanor said...

First time I've seen anything about why Coco Zickos was fired. We really enjoyed her articles. Any idea if she stayed on island? Got another job?

I may open your emails more often as I have really been wondering about this and did not know where to find the information.

Thanks for all the dirt that's fit to print (or unfit?)

Aloha,
Ellie

Brad Parsons said...

Eleanor, she is still here on the island. She has two new jobs now, one as a reporter and another working for a community organization. Look for her byline in Midweek Kauai.

Andy, I can see you are on top of it now. That double payment for the land deal looks like the big one in all of this. Hopin' you report more on it because there has been little about it in any of the news sources. For some reason TGI seems to be afraid of the whole LIH Aiport Admin. story.