Monday | November 20, 2017
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Panel members say audit of county hiring practices doesn’t show whole picture

Legislative auditors on Tuesday defended their report sharply criticizing county hiring practices before a County Council committee that said the audit doesn’t go far enough.

“The council isn’t criticizing your report,” said Kohala Councilman Tim Richards. “We are critiquing it. We all want the same thing.”

Finance Committee members said the auditors’ concentration on just four positions within four county departments for one year doesn’t show the whole picture, and they quizzed audit analysts repeatedly on how they selected such a small sample.

“I don’t know what to make of this,” said Hilo Councilman Aaron Chung. “Is there cause for concern? Was there wrongdoing? Tell us.”

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.

The audit said the creation of a Staffing Review Committee in 2013, with the power to overrule departments’ hiring choices, contributed to “questionable hiring practices” and “inappropriate involvement” in a hiring agency’s choice of qualified candidates. The committee was since disbanded.

In the wake of the sudden resignation last week of Human Resources Director Sharon Toriano, council members also are concerned about legal liability. Council members agreed to have an executive session during a future meeting to confer with their attorneys on potential lawsuits from candidates who were skipped over in favor of preferred candidates.

Council members said they also want to know more about the possible abuse of 89-day employment contracts that might have been used to allow preferred candidates to accrue the required experience to qualify for a permanent county job.

Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy called the report a “tiny little snapshot of time … (that) seems to target specific divisions.”

Analyst Lane Shibata defended the use of the small sample, saying the selection was based on a risk analysis and complied with recognized auditing practices. Nims did not attend the meeting.

“Ultimately, our recommendation is what you want to do to make our county process better,” Shibata said.

Many of the recommendations already were put into place. The county Human Resources Department is currently working on implementing a software program to track applicants. Another recommendation, to create a hotline for employee and applicant complaints, has not yet been implemented.

The issue is important enough to warrant more study, Lee Loy said.

“County jobs are highly coveted,” Lee Loy said. “There is this stigma of it’s who you know, not what you know.”

Email Nancy Cook Lauer at ncook-lauer@westhawaiitoday.com.

 

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