By NANCY COOK LAUER
Stephens Media Hawaii
Hawaii County Council Chairman J Yoshimoto has given the Food Basket Inc. a deadline to account for how it spent almost $200,000 in county disaster funds.
In a letter dated Monday, Yoshimoto asked Food Basket Executive Director En Young to submit monthly progress reports and a final report by July 26. The letter follows a May 12 Stephens Media article reporting that the Food Basket had apparently not fulfilled its contract requirements after the county took the unprecedented step of dipping into its emergency and disaster fund to help the nonprofit food bank.
“I believe that it is necessary to provide an accounting of how these public funds were expended,” Yoshimoto said in the letter.
In addition to the $200,000 from the county disaster and emergency fund, the County Council had pledged another $75,000 from the legislative auditor’s account. The money was to be spent only on food.
The Food Basket, upon receiving the $199,000 from the disaster fund, was to submit monthly written reports to the County Council chairman or his designee, describing project status and all expenditures to date, according to its contract with the county.
A final written report, including “an explanation of the public benefits derived from the awarding of the grant, a complete accounting statement of all expenditures supported by County of Hawaii grant funds and a listing of other funding sources and amounts obtained during the contract period,” was due by Sept. 1. At that time, the Food Basket would receive the final $1,000.
But the newspapers’ requests for the monthly reports and final report were unsuccessful earlier this year, with former Councilman Dominic Yagong, bill sponsor former Kohala Councilman Pete Hoffmann, the County Clerk’s office, the Food Basket and Mayor Billy Kenoi’s office all failing to find the reports. The Finance Department produced proof that the checks were cashed, but had no reports.
Young said Thursday he has since located a report former Food Basket Executive Director Nani Lee said she sent to Yagong on June 28, 2012. He said it didn’t contain all the required information, so he is preparing another one. In addition, he said, he’s creating a report that shows monthly expenditures to fulfill the monthly progress report part of the contract.
Young has been on the job only since February.
The Food Basket in April moved into a new $420,000 building it had purchased in Hilo, twice the size of its previous building. In a March 22 letter to Kenoi inviting him to a private grand opening ceremony, Young stated, “through the generous support of private foundations and individuals, local businesses and individuals in the public sector such as yourself, we have made the dream of upgrading our Hilo facility a reality.”
Young assured the newspaper the county’s money was spent only on food, and he provided a 2012 statement showing the Food Basket had purchased $268,869 worth of Spam, rice, canned beans, canned fruits and vegetables and other food from Hilo-based T.Hara & Co. LLC in May and June.
Kenoi, who voiced opposition to the council about using money from the disaster fund, ultimately reluctantly signed the bill that the council unanimously passed. He said in his March 20, 2012, bill-signing message that the disaster fund is meant “to restore and revitalize our island in the wake of a catastrophic disaster, such as a hurricane, earthquake or tsunami.”
Kenoi urged the council to hold the nonprofit accountable and that the money go directly for “nutritious food for the truly needy,” and not for salaries, wages, administrative costs or other nonfood uses.
Young said the reports will show the money was spent to feed the county’s hungry.
“Although there may be some confusion as to who received the reports, there is no confusion when it comes to what the money was spent on, who the products went to and the magnitude of the benefit to the community,” Young said in May. “We are very grateful for the county’s contribution.”
Email Nancy Cook Lauer at firstname.lastname@example.org.