Still no whistle-blower hot-line: Four years later, audit recommendation yet to be implemented

  • Gabriella Cabanas

  • Tyler Benner

  • Hawaii County logo

The Human Resources Department has been scrutinizing interview packets before county departments vet candidates for employment, one of several practices instituted after a scathing 2017 audit found favoritism in county hiring.

But another audit recommendation, a whistle-blower hotline, has yet to be implemented, the Merit Appeals Board learned Wednesday.

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Acting HR Director Waylen Leopoldino said the department follows up every request to fill a position with a request for the interview packet containing interview questions and assessments.

“There’s some back and forth communication with fixing the items that weren’t acceptable,” Leopoldino said, characterizing violations of policies and procedures “not intentional; it’s oversight by the departments.”

The scathing audit from former Auditor Bonnie Nims warned county practices contributed to public complaints of unfairness and favoritism and could have violated the law.

The audit 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.

“The county’s hiring practices did not ensure equitable, uniform and transparent selection of candidates which may have resulted in non-compliance with applicable laws, rules, regulations and county policies and procedures,” the audit stated.

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 recruitment was conducted for positions.

The county’s new auditor, Tyler Benner, has begun a followup audit that was originally planned to start in 2019. Benner, who took over in July, said he’s requested information from HR to get the process moving.

“We’ve reached out to them and we’re waiting on information,” Benner said. “We’ve started digging that one back out of the trenches.”

Merit Appeals Board Chairwoman Gabriella Cabanas said she was concerned about the lack of action on a whistle-blower hot-line here employees and others could call in tips on unfair or illegal practices. She said money had been budgeted to put the position in Human Resources, but that didn’t materialize and the funding was lost.

“The whistle-blower hotline was one of the biggies that hasn’t been addressed,” Cabanas said. “That was one of the recommendations in the auditor’s report … and is been a couple of years already.”

While Leopoldino said the Auditor’s Office will be determining the fate of the hotline.

“The auditor is assigned with determining next steps including assigning a position,” Leopoldino said. “What we done so far is transfer all the information over to county auditor and they were going to follow up.”

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Benner said his office is investigating the best way to implement a hot-line and where it should be located.

In the meantime, those who feel they’ve been treated unfairly or discriminated against in the county hiring process can call the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission at 586-8636.