County pCard audit may be delayed

Next month marks four years since there has been an audit report from the county’s legislative auditor.

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Next month marks four years since there has been an audit report from the county’s legislative auditor.

A transition to a new auditor about a year ago contributed to the long wait. But the County Council and the public will have to wait a little longer for Auditor Bonnie Nims’ much-anticipated first report, covering county officials’ use of the purchasing cards known as pCards.

Nims said Wednesday that the audit, originally planned for release this month, may not be completed until next month.

“Things always take longer than you hope,” Nims said. “I tend to be optimistic. … It’s just a long process to conduct an audit.”

Interest in Nims’ first audit increased dramatically statewide after West Hawaii Today reported in March that Mayor Billy Kenoi had routinely used his card for personal expenses as well as some campaign expenses. He generally reimbursed the county for his purchases within a few months, but the practice, which is against purchasing laws, has brought the attention of the state attorney general.

In addition to being investigated by the attorney general, Kenoi is also the subject of a county ethics complaint. After the newspaper revealed he’d used his card at hostess bars and to purchase a pricey surfboard and bicycle, Kenoi reimbursed the county for an additional $31,113 of the $129,581 he charged during his tenure.

Further digging into other county officials’ pCard use by Big Island newspapers has revealed questionable purchases may be more widespread than first thought. Kenoi’s executive assistants charged almost $143,000 on their county-issued credit cards — including airfare for a local surfer, a helicopter ride for visiting dignitaries, and wine given as a gift during a trip to the state Capitol.

County Council members have generally used their pCards according to the rules. The council, which oversees the auditor, has kept clear of Nims’ work on the pCard program, said Council Chairman Dru Kanuha.

Kanuha said he doesn’t have any issue with the progress of Nims’ work.

“I’m obviously staying away from that aspect of her work,” Kanuha said. “Timelines are always nice to shoot for, but sometimes they get pushed back.”

Nims had started her audit before the newspaper investigations. She declined to discuss whether she’s been in discussions with state Attorney General Doug Chin about her audit.

Nims’ annual audit plan, submitted to the County Council on Sept. 17, also lists planned audits of real property tax delinquent accounts, and cash receipts from Parks and Recreation and the Mass Transit Agency among the priorities. In addition, she is following up on Elections Division issues as directed by a council resolution, and conducting a countywide risk assessment, according to the audit plan.

Nims said she is also looking at information technology issues as new computers and software are added.

The $99,000 annual position had been vacant for 16 months before Nims took over. She’s the second auditor hired by the council after a 2008 charter amendment giving the auditor more freedom from political interference.

The charter amendment required the County Council to appoint an auditor who has free rein to inspect county records and require employees to be available for questioning as the auditor prepares performance and financial audits of administrative and legislative departments.

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The auditor serves for six years unless removed for cause by a two-thirds vote of the council. The mayor has no say in the appointment or removal of the auditor.

The county’s financial records are audited annually by an outside firm working with the county Department of Finance.

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