Panel: Post office probe not in public interest

The Cost of Government Commission is advising the county auditor not to take on the Old Wailuku Post Office demolition controversy, noting that “the public interest” will not be served by a prolonged investigation.

Commission Chairman Frank De Rego Jr. confirmed Wednesday that the commission Oct. 10 voted to advise County Auditor Lance Taguchi not to take on the audit and that he is in the process of drafting a letter to Taguchi.

De Rego said the commissioners believed that “the public interest would not be served by a prolonged investigation into this issue.”

He added that commissioners are not clear what the intended outcome of the audit would be.

“Are we looking at impeachment?” De Rego asked.

De Rego will share the draft letter with the commission at its next meeting Nov. 14 prior to sending it as a courtesy to the members; another approval is not required prior to his sending the letter.

Taguchi could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.

But in a recent interview with The Maui News, Taguchi said that he is in the process of preparing a list of audits for the rest of the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. He said he intends to assemble the plan of audits by early January at the latest. He did not tip his hand on whether the plan of audits would or would not include the Old Wailuku Post Office.

The Maui County Council’s Policy and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee also is awaiting Taguchi’s list. The committee is investigating the possible misuse of county funds by Mayor Alan Arakawa’s administration in the demolition of the Old Wailuku Post Office and in the planning of a county campus expansion.

Arakawa and his administration have apologized for using funds earmarked for the rehabilitation of the building for its demolition instead and for the planning of a new county campus – without amending the budget request with the council.

Amid the ongoing investigation, the council moved along with plans for a new office building on the site of the Old Wailuku Post Office. On Tuesday, the council’s Budget and Finance Committee recommended approval of $1.5 million for the design of the replacement building on the corner of Wells and High streets.

But the committee made it clear that its decision to recommend the design funds did not mean councilors were approving the actions of Arakawa’s administration to demolish the building and would not affect the council’s investigation.

At a recent Policy and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee meeting, committee Chairman Riki Hokama said that an audit would provide an end game to the controversy. The county auditor’s findings could lead to a termination of the investigation or yield recommendations on code or charter changes that could prevent such an occurrence from happening again.

“I can see why and how people would want to investigate this,” De Rego said. “In a way, in making sure the performance and the things that are being done are being done correctly, I can understand that part.”

De Rego said he doesn’t have a problem with performance evaluations but said “we weren’t quite sure that was the road this (audit) was going down.”

“I think generally the commissioners weren’t really sure what basically is the outcome,” he said. “There are larger issues about Wailuku and how the (new) building is going to fit in Wailuku.”

He added that Arakawa had apologized and admitted his administration made a mistake.

“We are more focused on how do we make sure this doesn’t happen again,” De Rego said.

The commission has invited the Arakawa administration to the November meeting to explain what safeguards have been put in place to prevent another similar situation from occurring.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at