Kekaualua steps down from campaign as DOT investigates

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HILO — In 2014, Francis “Kepa” Kekaualua was a literal poster boy for the Hawaii Government Employees Association, the union representing him as a superintendent for the Hawaii Department of Transportation.

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HILO — In 2014, Francis “Kepa” Kekaualua was a literal poster boy for the Hawaii Government Employees Association, the union representing him as a superintendent for the Hawaii Department of Transportation.

“We work. Above and beyond,” touted signs lauding Kekaualua for his volunteer work at a soup kitchen. He was one of several government employees featured during the campaign, which is no longer running, an HGEA spokeswoman said Saturday.

That was before Kekaualua was fined $3,000 by the state Ethics Commission for alleged personal use of state staff and equipment after his personal pickup truck blew a tire in Kona.

Construction and maintenance superintendent for the entire island who works out of the Hilo baseyard, Kekaualua is currently under a “management investigation” by the DOT, a spokeswoman confirmed Wednesday.

Kekaualua, a former member of HGEA’s state board, has also stepped down as campaign manager for a Hilo County Council candidate, who is an HGEA union agent.

“Kepa Kekaualua was originally my campaign manager,” Council District 3 candidate Moana Kelii said in an email response Friday to telephone messages. “However, in the midst of the issues he is facing, he has voluntarily stepped aside. I am in the process of selecting a new campaign manager.”

Kelii said she has also removed her HGEA telephone number from state campaign registration forms after West Hawaii Today questioned her and the union about whether it was proper. An HGEA spokeswoman directed questions to Kelii.

Kekaualua was not put on paid or unpaid leave from his approximately $60,000 annual job while the investigation continues, DOT spokeswoman Shelly Kunishige said in a an email.

Employees are forbidden from using state time, property or facilities, including equipment and supplies for personal business or for other unauthorized personal purposes, under the DOT’s Departmental Staff Manual.

“Any employee who willfully uses or authorizes the use of any state-owned or leased motor vehicle, boat or airplane for other than official purposes will be subject to disciplinary action up to and including dismissal,” the manual states.

Kekaualua did not admit wrongdoing in the settlement agreement with the Ethics Commission.

“The Commission believed that Respondent Kekaualua likely violated the State Ethics Code’s fair treatment law as alleged in the Charge by using state vehicles, subordinate state personnel, and other state resources for his own personal purposes,” the commission said in its May 23 report ( http://files.hawaii.gov/ethics/advice/ROC2016-4.pdf ).

Kekaualua was in Kona on personal business on Aug. 2, a Sunday, when a tire blew out on his pickup, according to the Ethics Commission report. After being unable to find a business to repair the tire that day, he called on a subordinate, the acting unit supervisor at the DOT baseyard in North Kona.

The acting supervisor came to the baseyard, used his key to activate a dump truck, and Kekaualua drove the dump truck 86 miles to his home in Hilo. He left his personal truck at the baseyard.

The next day, Kekaualua directed an acting supervisor at the Hilo baseyard to instruct another employee, on state time, to return the dump truck and recover the personal pickup. He then had an employee, again on state time, change the tire on his pickup.

The driver, also a subordinate employee to Kekaualua, drove the lowboy trailer (a large semi-trailer pulled by a truck tractor) during state work time to transport the DOT dump truck from the Hilo baseyard to the North Kona baseyard, loaded Kekaualua’s truck on the lowboy trailer, and then drove the lowboy trailer with Kekaualua’s truck back to the Hilo baseyard.

DOT records showed that the DOT driver spent approximately four hours of his official work hours driving the lowboy trailer from the Hilo baseyard to the North Kona baseyard and back, and that the lowboy trailer was driven approximately 200 miles for the round trip, the Ethics Commission said in its report.

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“Employees who are entrusted with state property and other state resources for the performance of their official duties must uphold the public’s trust by ensuring that state property and state resources are used for official purposes only,” the report continued.

Kekaualua didn’t return messages for comment left Thursday and Friday on his work number or a phone number for him on the Kelii’s Campaign Spending Commission report.

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