Attorney representing fired election workers claims lawsuit forthcoming

HILO — The attorney representing three fired election workers stood outside council chambers Thursday, blasting the “gang of four” inside who denied his offer to settle their claims without a lawsuit.

HILO — The attorney representing three fired election workers stood outside council chambers Thursday, blasting the “gang of four” inside who denied his offer to settle their claims without a lawsuit.

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Ted Hong said a lawsuit is likely forthcoming within four weeks.

The employees, Election Office Administrator Pat Nakamoto, Warehouse Manager Glen Shikuma and Shyla Ayau, an elections worker, did not join Hong at a noon news conference as the council Finance Committee worked on the county budget just inside the windows. The workers, who threatened a $1.5 million lawsuit, were willing to accept $10,000 each, a public apology and their jobs back, according to the settlement offer.

The County Council on Tuesday by a 4-4 vote had rejected the settlement offer. Voting against the settlement were council Chairman Dominic Yagong, Kohala Councilman Pete Hoffmann, South Kona Councilwoman Brenda Ford and Ka’u Councilwoman Brittany Smart.

“Four council members think their pride and political ambition is more important than the taxpayers,” Hong said. “The gang of four think that taxpayer money is their own to cover their mistakes.”

The employees were fired after an investigation by the Clerk’s Office reportedly found alcohol and privately owned sign-making equipment in the elections warehouse. The equipment led investigators to believe that Shikuma, who previously owned a sign-making company, was continuing his private business on county time and in county facilities.

The employees work for the Clerk’s Office, which is under the control of the County Council, not the mayor’s administration. Yagong, who as chairman holds the council majority that hires the clerk, said Thursday, “I guess Ted Hong is doing his job.” He declined further comment.

It is a violation of county code for employees to run private businesses out of county facilities and to drink or have alcohol at job sites. But Hong, while acknowledging that drinking and sign-making was going on, contends the employees were falsely accused, wrongly fired and then publicly embarrassed when their names were released to the public.

Hong said Thursday that under civil service agreements, management is required to give employees “fair warning” before they change a long-held practice. He said “decades” of county clerks have tacitly or overtly approved post-election BYOB parties outside the election warehouse, and the county had previously made use of Shikuma’s sign-making for election purposes.

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Ford, who has consistently defended the firings, took offense at the “gang of four” characterization.

“I do not make political votes,” Ford said. “Never have, never will.”