Lawyer: Water Supply chief broke law with meter extension
Retired Deputy Director Paul Meyer thinks Dave Taylor acted within rights
A Makawao attorney claims Water Supply Director Dave Taylor violated county law when he granted a Kula property owner a two-year extension to complete water improvements.
Attorney Tom Pierce said in a letter to the Water Supply Department on Dec. 7 that Taylor did not have the authority to grant the extension, especially given that nearly a decade has passed since property owner Roderick Fong first made his water meter reservations.
Taylor’s former deputy director, however, argues that Taylor acted within his rights and that such extensions are not uncommon.
The letter is part of an ongoing battle over the employment status of Taylor, who has been on administrative leave since the mayor tried to remove him in November. Despite a unanimous Maui County
Council vote on Dec. 15 to retain Taylor as director, he remains on leave because of ongoing administrative and criminal investigations, according to the mayor’s office.
Taylor’s attorneys have given the mayor until today to reinstate him.
County Communications Assistant Director Ryan Piros provided The Maui News with a copy of Pierce’s letter Tuesday but could not say which investigation it was related to.
The dispute arose from an extension that Taylor granted Fong four months ago. On Sept. 18, Taylor sent a letter to Fong, who had requested a time extension to do improvements on his Kula property. Fong had reserved 11 water meters — eight in 2004 and three in 2005 — and had already been granted “the two maximum allowable six-month time extensions” in each case, Taylor pointed out. Fong’s meter reservations had expired on Dec. 31, 2016, and Fong had asked for an extension on June 13.
Taylor granted an extension based on several factors, “including the fact that construction plans were approved by the department, construction of the water system improvements have started, and the construction schedule that you provided to our office.” Fong’s new extension will now expire Dec. 31. By then, his improvements must be constructed and pass final inspection, Taylor said, adding that Fong would receive “no further extensions or reinstatements.”
Pierce said he was conducting a document review of department records related to Fong’s property when he discovered the Sept. 18 letter. The attorney represents David and Patricia Chevalier, who own land bordering Fong’s property. The Chevaliers’ interest in Fong’s water permits was not outlined in the letter.
Under Maui County Code (section 14.07.090), “a developer must complete water system improvements within two years of making the water reservation, and only two six-month extensions are permitted beyond the two years, and then only upon a showing of good cause,” Pierce wrote.
“The director does not have the authority to reinstate the water meter reservations and grant the developer and property owners of the property more extensions, where, as here, more than three years have elapsed since the water reservations were made — in fact more than a decade,” Pierce said.
Taylor has declined comment on his case, but Paul Meyer, who served as Taylor’s deputy director for six years before retiring in January 2016, believes Taylor had the right to make the extension. Meyer pointed out that the same chapter of the County Code allows the director to waive the two-year time requirements, as long as the department saw the person was “making a bona fide effort to get their meter installed.”
“The alternative was they had to forfeit their meter fee, and they’d never get their meter again,” Meyer said.
He added that many extensions have been approved based on the waiver clause (section 14.13.080), and that the department’s job is “not to screw people,” if they’re struggling to complete a project due to delays that many times are caused by the county.
“Our job was to interpret the circumstances and look into the case and decide if these people were asking for something that was reasonable,” Meyer said.
While Fong’s request came after Meyer retired, he said that based on the letter, “I have no reason to believe that Dave’s decision to extend that reservation was incorrect.” He said he’s seen extensions for projects that have gone on much longer than Fong’s, including ones by other county departments.
“The facts look like they fit the normal and customary kinds of things that we look for when we extend a reservation,” Meyer said. “It doesn’t look strange to me. And what is clear is that in Mr. Pierce’s letter, he makes no reference to 14.13.080. . . . I suspect if he did read it, he would realize the director does have the authority.”
Neither Fong nor Pierce could be reached for comment Wednesday. Piros has said the county cannot comment because of ongoing investigations.
* Colleen Uechi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.