WAILUKU - Recently retired state Auditor Marion Higa may be helping Maui County with its hiring and development of its new auditor position, council members said Tuesday.
Budget and Finance Committee Chairman Mike White and Council Chairwoman Gladys Baisa said they met with Higa on Oahu while attending the opening of the state Legislature earlier this month and asked if she would be willing to assist the county. They said Higa expressed interest.
"She's a fearless lady," Baisa told council members at the Budget and Finance Committee meeting in the Council Chambers. "She's not afraid of political consequences whatsoever."
Higa, who retired at age 70 last year, spent 41 years in the state auditor's office and held the top job since 1991. She was known for her frank audits of all state departments and spoke out about the deficiencies her office found. The Oahu resident could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon.
The news that Higa may assist the county came as the council Budget and Finance Committee on Tuesday voted to recommend a temporary investigative group to make findings and recommendations relating to the appointment of the new auditor.
The county auditor was established after residents voted in favor of a Maui County Charter amendment to establish the Office of the County Auditor in last year's general election. Maui is the last county in the state to establish an auditor's office.
The Maui County Salary Commission on Jan. 11 set the salary for the new auditor at $100,000 per year based on the potential scope of the job and analyzing salaries of other counties' auditors.
White proposed that the temporary investigative group assist with reviewing resumes of qualified applicants as well as handle other issues relating to the new job. He recommended the group be headed by Council Member Riki Hokama.
White cited Hokama's past experience as council budget committee chairman and council chairman and being a current executive officer with the National Association of Counties.
White said he will serve as vice chairman, and Council Member Don Couch will serve as a member of the group.
White said Couch has experience from the county administrative side as a former mayoral executive assistant and a former deputy director for the Department of Planning. Couch's experience with both branches of county government will help because the county auditor will need to work with both the county's executive and legislative branches.
The council committee agreed with White's proposal and established the group.
White said the group will vet applicants and recommend one individual for the county auditor position to the Budget and Finance Committee. According to the County Charter, the county auditor is appointed by the County Council.
The county auditor's position becomes effective July 1 with an end date of June 30, 2019.
Frank De Rego Jr., chairman of the Cost of Government Commission, testified before the committee Tuesday morning and said that there should be an ordinance that establishes the Office of the County Auditor. He said the ordinance should ensure the independence of the auditor, free from any political influence, and that the hiring of the auditor be done in a manner open to the public.
De Rego said he soon will be sending a formal letter to the council on the commission's behalf.
In other committee matters, members recommended approval of an amended bill to provide $615,000 for the Kulamalu affordable housing project for the master planning, design and entitlements of the county-owned property in the Kulamalu subdivision.
The county had already appropriated $500,000 for the project. The additional funds will assist with the design portion.
The original bill before the committee proposed to increase the appropriation by $285,000, which would have included both the design and construction management funds. But White said that the appropriation of the construction management funds can come later during the construction phase.
The committee also decided to keep the project titled "affordable" versus changing it to "workforce" as proposed by the county administration.
The project seeks to establish 64 units in the Kulamalu area near the new Upcountry Longs store and Kamehameha Schools Maui.
In an unrelated committee matter, members voted to recommend a bill to amend the definition of "property" and "real property" in the Maui County Code to include any property that is used to convert wind energy to a form of usable energy.
With several council members questioning how properties containing other forms of alternative energy are dealt with in the Real Property Tax system, White referred the subject of other alternative energy production to the Economic Development, Energy, Agriculture and Recreation Committee.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at email@example.com.