Cannot commit at this time — new auditor on demolition audit

WAILUKU – Maui County’s new auditor said Friday that it’s too early for him and his office, which has not yet been set up, to conduct an audit into the county administration’s handling of the Old Wailuku Post Office demolition.

“At this point in time, I can’t really commit to do that particular audit until my office is more established. Once my office is established, I’ll give that audit serious consideration,” said Lance Taguchi, who was appointed county auditor July 1.

He said that he is in the process of hiring staff and adopting auditing standards.

Taguchi made the comments late Friday afternoon to The Maui News after hand-delivering a letter to the Office of Council Services in response to a request by the Maui County Council Policy and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee to conduct an audit of county administrative departments in light of the administration’s handling of the Old Wailuku Post Office demolition.

Taguchi said that his passing on the audit at this time had nothing to do with the politics of the situation. He has said that his office can’t avoid all “politically charged audits” because “that comes with the territory.”

Earlier Friday, Council Member Riki Hokama, chairman of the Policy and Intergovernmental Affairs committee, told The Maui News that he hoped Taguchi would agree to the audit.

If Taguchi did not take on the audit, Hokama said that he would probably ask the committee to seek a third-party audit.

Hokama could not be immediately reached for comment Friday afternoon following Taguchi’s response.

Hokama’s earlier comments came after a Maui County Council meeting Friday morning during which the full council approved a resolution to remove the county’s Department of the Corporation Counsel from the committee’s investigation.

By doing so, the council committee may use the county attorneys as a resource, which will save the county money because the council would not need to hire outside attorneys, according to the resolution. The resolution said that it is “advisable” to remove the county attorneys from the investigation because the attorneys do not have decision-making authority over the issues being probed.

According to a previous handout from Hokama to his committee, the Mayor’s Office, the departments of Management, Finance and Public Works, the Budget Office and “any other person elected, appointed or employed in the county who is necessary to complete the investigation” may be consulted as the committee looks into the dispute that centers on the use of about $1.5 million for the demolition of the Old Wailuku Post Office and for planning for the expansion of county facilities earlier this year.

Some council members say that the funds were appropriated for “rehabilitation,” not demolition, of the more than 50-year-old building that stood at the corner of Wells and High streets. The site currently is an empty lot being used for county employee parking. Mayor Alan Arakawa’s administration is planning for a new county building on the site.

Arakawa and his administration have apologized publicly, saying that they should have come to the council for a budget amendment before demolishing the building. Even with the apology, council members such as Hokama, a proponent of the investigation, feel strongly that the demolition process needs to be examined.

It is unfair to the public if laws are made which the public must follow but the county does not, he said. What the council is doing is what the charter requires and what the public has asked him to do, which is to look after county funding, Hokama said after the meeting.

When explaining to the public why the council is conducting the investigation, he says, “It’s in the charter. This is what you tell us to do.”

As for the timeline of the investigation, Hokama said that he would like to see it completed as quickly as possible.

While Hokama acknowledged that the corporation counsel is nominated by the mayor and is now being tasked with aiding the investigation of the mayor’s administration, the council member said that Corporation Counsel Pat Wong has shown he can represent all branches of county government fairly and maintain client confidentiality.

In others council decisions Friday:

* Council members adopted two resolutions to approve $31.2 million in pay raises and other benefits over four years to more than 300 Maui County police officers after a recent contract arbitration award to the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers. The raises and benefits also include some excluded bargaining unit employees.

* Council members adopted a resolution to approve the acquisition of about 209 acres of property in Kahului for $5.2 million from Alexander & Baldwin for a park and other county purposes. The property is part of a parcel that sits to the west of Kuihelani Highway and south of Waikapu Stream.

* Council members on first reading approved a bill that would amend the County Code to allow transient vacation rentals in planned developments that received final approval on or before April 20, 1981, and had at least one dwelling unit operating as a vacation rental during that time. The planned development must be located on parcels with at least some residential district zoning and consist only of duplexes or multifamily units.

The Puamana Planned Development and the Kaanapali Plantation Development would be the only ones that would meet the criteria in the bill, according to council documents.

* The council on first reading approved amending the fiscal 2014 budget by increasing the appropriation for the West Maui Recycled Water System Expansion project by $2 million to about $3.2 million. With the proposed bill the council also approved on first reading a measure to authorize the mayor to enter into an intergovernmental agreement to finance the project with funds from the State Water Pollution Control Revolving Fund Loan.

The measure would increase county funding to allow for the construction of elevated storage tanks for recycled water, council documents said.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at