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Former tax department head to lead council services

Zielinski was asked to resign from state job in December

WAILUKU — The new head of the Office of Council Services for Maui County is Maria Zielinski, who resigned abruptly in December as director of the state Department of Taxation.

In an interview Wednesday with The Maui News, Zielinski said Ford Fuchigami, Gov. David Ige’s administrative director, asked her to resign over what she regarded as a moral issue.

“They wanted me to sign off on a personnel issue I felt morally and ethically wrong, and I refused. And, as a result of that, four days later, I was asked to resign,” Zielinski said.

She declined to elaborate.

Through Ige’s deputy communications and press secretary, Jodi Leong, Fuchigami said he’s legally prohibited from commenting on a personnel matter.

Zielinski said her resignation was not tied to other matters that surfaced publicly around the time of her departure.

Those included a revelation that state tax officials instructed an independent consultant on which subjects should be addressed in its monitoring reports on the progress of a new $60 million tax computer system, according to an Associated Press report.

The tax department also requested changes in the reports by consultant AdvanTech LLC before they were made public, the report said. The consultant reported that is “not the norm” in its experience.

AdvanTech is an “independent verification and validation” consultant that was hired under a $1.43 million contract to help the state implement a tax system modernization project.

“Basically, as I told others, I wasn’t aware of anything,” Zielinski said.

But she offered a possible explanation, noting that, whenever there’s a third-party consultant or auditor, staff receives a first-draft report to review. Then, staff may make comments or suggestions, most of the time, things that need to be corrected, she said. “To me, that doesn’t change or manipulate the information.”

When the report is done, the consultants are the authors.

“They have to stand by it,” she said.

It’s unfortunate, Zielinski said, that perhaps it was interpreted as staffers manipulating the report.

“We have nothing to hide,” she said. “People make suggestions.”

Zielinski began her new job as director of Council Services on May 1.

She submitted her financial disclosure form to the county Board of Ethics, which acknowledged receipt of the report at its meeting Wednesday afternoon.

She reported her income was between $100,000 to $199,999, while she served as director of the Department of Taxation. According to Honolulu Civil Beat’s database of public employees’ salaries, Zielinski earned $144,552 for this fiscal year.

(Zielinski will earn $127,059 per year as director of Council Services, according to the Department of Personnel Services.)

She jointly owes $500,000 or more to Central Pacific Bank, according to her disclosure form.

She jointly has real property interest worth between $200,000 and $499,999 for an apartment in Honolulu.

Ethics board members noted that Zielinski reported she was married, but she did not fill out a section that asks for the filer’s spouse’s income and employment. Members decided that Zielinski should provide further information.

With her new job, Zielinski told The Maui News she has always maintained her primary residence on Maui but commuted to Oahu every week for her tax director job.

She took the council services position to see how government works from the legislative side and maintained she’s a strong manager who can empower her staff of around 25. The council services staff includes legislative analysts, some attorneys and support staff.

Zielinski also served as a deputy controller for the state Department of Accounting and General Services under Gov. Neil Abercrombie.

She worked as an accounting administrator in the Maui County Department of Finance from 2010 to 2012.

The board also acknowledged receiving Department of Water Supply Director David Taylor’s financial disclosure form.

Filing deadlines vary for individuals.

Taylor has been on paid administration leave since Nov. 15 when Mayor Alan Arakawa removed him from office. He reported his annual income of $135,884.

He also reported interest on investments that ranged from $1,000 to $9,999.

Disclosure forms do not ask for exact figures, but ranges of amounts.

Taylor serves as the president of the board of directors for the Hawaii Rural Water Association. It is a nonprofit water utility support agency, according to Taylor’s form.

Ethics board members decided to send Taylor a cautionary letter to ensure there are no conflicts with his job at the county and his association membership.

In his disclosure form, Taylor reported owning fee simple property in Wailuku, which is worth between $200,000 and $499,999.

On Tuesday, a Maui County Council committee recommended authorizing a settlement of a lawsuit filed by Taylor against Arakawa for wrongful termination among other allegations. Settlement terms were not disclosed.

In December, council members voted against removing Taylor as water director. The Maui County Charter requires council concurrence with the mayor’s dismissal of the water director. Nevertheless, Taylor has not been allowed to return to work.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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