Monday, December 29, 2008



The FBI is engaged in a government corruption probe on Kaua`i and has interrogated the mayor, police chief and most if not all department heads and county council members with an eye toward opening a permanent office on the island, according to Kaua`i Prosecuting Attorney Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho.

The FBI interviews occurred in July according to then-Councilwoman Iseri who, at the October 8 county council meeting, revealed that she was questioned for two hours on July 24 regarding “corruption (and) serious allegations of nepotism and hiring of campaign workers etc.”

The revelation came after Personnel Services Director Mel Fernandez refused to appear before the council to explain specific instances of the “downward reallocation” process that downgrades skilled positions to entry level jobs.

The move has allegedly been common practice for many years in order to place well connected but unqualified applicants in job slots that were created by the council to fill the needs for skilled workers expressed by department heads during budgeting sessions as PNN detailed on September 15.

The FBI sessions took place after the death of Mayor Bryan Baptiste and during the short reign of then acting Mayor Kaipo Asing.

“We actually had a visit by the FBI that came on July 24”. Iseri told the council and the TV cameras. “There was a meeting between the police chief and the mayor and subsequent to that there was meetings between department heads as well as the council because there was allegations by many that the FBI had wanted to establish a unit here and there were numerous questions that went on.

“An interview went on for up to two hours with myself and I’m sure that was the length of time that went on with others about corruption in government..

“And that was a serious enough concern that was taken by the FBI, so serious enough that they were thinking of establishing or providing justification to establish an office here.”

The probe was exposed by Iseri after a communication requesting that Fernandez attend the meeting to explain one “reassignment” of job a description elicited a letter saying essentially that he was not asking for a deferral but was refusing to answer any questions as to the reasons for the changes.

As part of the budget law enacted this year, for the first time the personnel services department must notify the council when jobs are reallocated.

All seven councilmembers were flabbergasted by the unprecedented absolute refusal- usually department heads use delaying and misdirection tactics to avoid council inquires.

But none more astounded than Mel Rapozo, who was livid.

“He’s basically telling us he’s done his obligation and that’s all I’m doing- without coming, without responding to our request, (saying) ‘you got a report- stop it’” Rapozo said before reading Fernandez’s letter which said:

Please be informed that I am unable to be present at the October 8 meeting relative to the above subject.

It is our belief that we have fulfilled our obligation under the general provisions changes under the budget ordinance by providing the informational report on the transferring of changing of positions within 30 days.

“This is just baffling- perplexing. I guess this is their response” said then council Chair Jay Furfaro, saying apparently all they could do was to go to the Civil Service Commission, who hires and fires the personnel services director according to the county charter.

But Rapozo said he had already written to the commission and, since the commission’s meeting are on Wednesdays at the same time the council meets, “maybe we can all march down there and testify”

“This is a total show of disrespect. It’s a slap in our faces” he said emphasizing that it is for the public’s benefit that the council asked for an explanation while calling the practice of taking a budgeted position and changing it without explanation “fraudulent”

Noting he would not be on the council come December 1 because he was running for Mayor at the time Rapozo said “I hope the seven who are here dollar fund every position that’s not filled” during the next budget session.

“Dollar funding” is a practice of creating a line item but only appropriating one dollar for it so that by controlling the purse strings by requiring approval the council can have more control over the process.

Currently if the council appropriates $90,000 for a skilled professional the department can hire three $30,000 janitors. And before this summer no one on the council would ever know it.

That’s when Iseri had apparently had enough and revealed the FBI probe to the public.,

This is the third time it’s come up on the agenda” she told the council before describing the “merit principle” that is detailed in the charter regarding hiring practices.

“For me” she said “this is pure administrative arrogance.

“We’re not talking about a simple isolated incident... this is the exact kind of thing that happens as soon as the budget is passed. It shows the budget process is really a fraud. there’s absolutely no accountability in that kind of system.”

Iseri explained that what’s been happening is that frantic overworked department heads come to the council at budget time asking them to create skilled positions to take care of the increasing workload. But when the hiring takes place the skilled position is not filled and an unskilled entry-level position is created, sometimes more than one.

She likened the process to “begging for a civil engineer and then switching to three custodians”.

She cited a recent personnel services decision where an investigator who oversaw cases for 150 prosecutors in Honolulu was deemed to be unqualified to oversee cases of 15 attorneys on Kaua`i.

The councilmembers all noted that this was not a reflection on Asing who had just taken over the job and whose signature was not on the letter from Fernandez. As a matter of fact there wasn’t even a place for the mayor’s signature or initial as is always the norm.

Iseri had special criticism though for administrative assistant then and now Gary Heu who did initial Fernandez’s letter. Heu, she said, had earlier promised that he would make sure that the reasons for changes would be fully transparent, causing Iseri to withdraw a proposed charter amendment on the subject this past summer.

Heu was rehired in his post by new Mayor Bernard Carvalho.

According to Rapozo although the county charter prohibits the council from interfering with the “administrative function” of county government this was a matter of the legislative function of the county dealing with appropriation and budgeting.

In the past this has been interpreted as saying the council cannot compel administration personnel to testify or even appear before the council. In practice the council “requests” that they be present to discuss matter of mutual concern.

“If I’m providing my oversight on a position that we approved- that the public is paying for- you’re damn right I (should) have the opportunity to ask questions on that funding” he said loud enough for his microphone to feed back.

“The problem is not reallocating of positions for people that are qualified. The problem is that they are downgrading positions from the higher levels that require (civil service) testing and requirements that for some reason the people they want to hire don’t have.

“So they lower the classification to entry level where they can waive the test and then hire who they want and put them on their own track for on-the-job training and slowly get them incremented until they’re up to where they’re supposed to be.

“That’s not fair” he said.

He then told of one of the voluminous stories told to him and other council members in phone calls and emails after the problems were revealed at the September meeting PNN described. At that meeting Furfaro told a story about how his qualified and experienced daughter was refused a job so someone with connection but was not qualified could take a reallocated job.

Rapozo told of a local kid who came back from attending University of Northern Colorado where he had obtained a degree in industrial chemistry. When a position for a “wastewater chemist” was advertised in the local newspaper he applied and studied all he could about wastewater in preparation for the civil service test.

But he never got to take the test . Instead, after an interview only, he was told he wouldn’t get the job and they hired someone with a degree in forestry instead- someone who just happened to be a relative of a county employee.

The chemist filed a complaint with the civil service commission in Dec. of 2007 but the follow-up had just begun in Sept..

The matter was deferred and should appear on a future council agenda.

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