New HR director vows to restore trust

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HILO — Coming off a critical audit that ended with the sudden resignation of the former Human Resources director, the county Merit Appeals Board and the newly appointed director put reestablishing trust at the top of the agenda.

The board on Tuesday named its acting director and former deputy director Bill Brilhante as the new HR chief.

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“The bar was set pretty high,” said board Chairwoman Julie Tulang. “We had a really good group of talented and experienced people who had applied for the job.”

The board interviewed four candidates, including Brilhante, after it conducted an open solicitation statewide. State law requires candidates to be Hawaii residents for at least one year.

The Sept. 7 audit report, by Legislative Auditor Bonnie Nims, found numerous problems in how the county selected applicants to be interviewed and how candidates were assessed. Employees who were concerned about the processes kept quiet because they feared retaliation, the audit said.

Board members said they appreciated the thoughtful responses Brilhante gave to their questions and the feelings of trust he inspired.

“My goal is to take that trust and move it forward,” Brilhante said, “to gain the trust of the staff, to gain the trust of the administration, to gain the trust of county employees and the public at large.”

The position pays $128,628 annually, under raises recently approved by the county Salary Commission.

Candidates were required to have a bachelor’s degree in human resources, public personnel administration, industrial relations or related field and five years experience in a human resource functional area, three in an administrative capacity. Experience could substitute for the educational degree.

Brilhante was born in Honokaa and graduated from Hawaii Preparatory Academy. He earned his bachelor of arts in economics at the University of Hawaii at Hilo and his law degree at Chapman University in Orange, California.

He was assistant regional counsel for the Social Security Administration in San Francisco. He worked as a Hawaii deputy attorney general from 2005 until joining Hawaii County as deputy corporation counsel in 2007. He became deputy HR director in November, 2016.

The Merit Appeals Board has used three approaches in hiring the past three HR directors — an open employment solicitation, one limited to county employees and the promotion of the deputy director by a board vote.

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The auditor found cases in some departments where applicants were offered positions before interviews were conducted, where no references were checked, where the number of interviews were the same as vacancies even though there was a large referred list, where a random number generator, instead of a skills test, was used to winnow applicants, where applications with mainland addresses were discarded and other questionable practices.

West Hawaii Today, in an investigation, expanded on the audit’s findings by revealing the use of sticky notes and the acronym “POI” to designate a “person of interest,” who was selected even before positions were advertised.