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Ian Lind • Online daily from Kaaawa, Hawaii

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Ethics probe of road supervisor led to indictment

December 11th, 2013 · 17 Comments · Crime, Ethics, Media, Sunshine

Did you catch the Hawaii News Now report last night on the indictment of a former city roads supervisor for felony theft? The supervisor allegedly would regularly report for work but then return home, resulting in taking pay for hours not worked (“Former supervisor with the city indicted on felony charge“).

This criminal case follows a City Ethics Commission investigation that resulted in the supervisor, Patrick Costa, losing his job.

“Give credit to a city employee who blew the whistle,” says Chuck Totto, Executive Director of the City Ethics Commission.

“We would have never known about it (without that person),” says Totto.

After the investigation was launched, witnesses reported that Costa had been doing this for years.

Wait a minute. Didn’t Costa have a boss? Who was it? Who did that boss report to? Are we supposed to believe that his absence was never noted by a supervisor or anyone else in authority? If it wasn’t, then the much bigger question is why the supervisor didn’t know, and the same question has to be asked up the chain of authority in the city. Or perhaps Costa and others had some form of political clout that they used to their benefit? This is all background the public would benefit from knowing.

In a story last year, Keoki Kerr reported:

City employees said a culture of corruption has been allowed to flourish in this division for years, with favoritism and nepotism to blame for some of the problems.

Since one-third of the jobs in the department are vacant, employees said there’s plenty of overtime that’s sometimes doled out unfairly or unethically.

Managers in the city’s road division are either ignoring the problems are too clueless and inept to do step in and do anything about them, employees said.

So this is apparently one of the things the Honolulu Ethics Commission has been investigating. Wouldn’t you think the city would want to beef up the commission’s investigative capacity in light of the problems being uncovered? Or is this larger “culture of corruption” part of the reason the Caldwell administration has been trying to rein in the commission’s powers? Just asking…

Keoki Kerr has been reporting on problems at the the same city facility for a couple of years. It makes for rich and disturbing reading.

City sign supervisor under investigation for spending much of workday at home” 7-16-2012

Another city road division supervisor under ethics probe” 8-3-2012

City road division employees under probe in bizarre incident involving a dead pig” 8-6-2012

City fires one supervisor, plans to discipline other workers in troubled roads division” 9-3-2012

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  • No comment

    Whenever we see Caldwell on television, he is tooling around on a bicycle talking about urban bike paths and smart growth and ending homelessness, and celebrating same-sex marriage. One would think that he is a dyed-in-the-wool liberal hippie from rural Oregon, a la Neil Abercrombie.

    But the flip side of this modus operandi is to go along with whoever has the most money and power in order to advance career. This might fool a lot of nice, ordinary people, but it doesn’t fool the best people.

    http://www.civilbeat.com/articles/2012/11/02/17553-carlisle-on-caldwell-no-comment/

    This two-faced modus operandi is, unfortunately, perfect for fostering a culture of self-righteous hypocrisy, and that aids corruption.

    But one thing that we are not talking about is how this doubleness — outward political correctness coupled with amoral conformity — pervades the political culture. A society largely gets the leaders it deserves, they reflect the society.

    • Lopaka43

      Please note: These problems happened on Mayor Carlisle’s watch; not Mayor Caldwell’s.

      • Ian Lind

        They appear to possibly go back as far as Frank FSi’s administration, if statements quoted in the news stories turn out to be true.

    • Jerry the First

      Dear No Comment: You would deserve a Nobel Prize for Insight for what you said the last two paragraphs of your post, if they gave one.

      The Administration’s constant dueling with Ethics is symptomatic of the self-righteousness and hypocrisy you correctly identify.

      Thanks to the political players and nightmare employees who take pay like it was protection money, we have a hint at the new “spirit of the age,” that makes people tick.

  • aikea808

    A clean sweep and starting afresh of C&C (and State) workers would result in massive savings for us taxpayers. Might even get some work done for a change, too. We’ve all suspected this was going on, and I’m glad to see that there is a pinpoint of light shining on the issue.

  • Curious

    Is Captain Kirk really in command of the starship, or are a bunch of Klingons?

  • ohiaforest3400

    Your reference to a “larger ‘culture of corruption’” enables broad brush comments such as that made by Aikea808, above. To suggest that all State and County employees should be fired and replaced is just plain ridiculous and stupid.

    A smaller, more efficient, well run government would save money but getting rid of all its employees would have the exact opposite effect. Of course, such a thing would never happen but such alliterations encourage some people to fantasize in this fashion.

    That being said, at least one City employee has told me that they were admonished for seeking Ethics Commission advice on a matter clearly within its ken and instructed to contact Corp Counsel, instead. Of course, that would expose the person to Ethics Commission action if they did something the commission determines they should not have done, since that is its job, not Corp Counsel’s.

    Going to your larger point, however, this new policy suggests an insular, secretive “us v. them” culture that allows you and others to infer there is corruption afoot where that may not, in fact, be the case. I fault them for that, not you, because where there is a vacuum of information, someone will fill it. Clearly, in such instances, perception counts as much as reality.

    • Lopaka43

      Please regard all hypotheticals as good investigative questions to explore, but please withhold judgments and try to focus on facts and research.
      One bad apple does tarnish the reputation of all City workers. That is why the fellow worker who blew the whistle should be commended.
      Most City workers in my experience are hard working and resent those do not carry their fair share of the load.
      Please also make a distinction between civil service employees and political appointees.
      All civil service employees regularly take refresher ethics training from Chuck Totto and are supplied with contact information allowing them to get confidential advice or to file anonymous complaints about ethics violations which Totto has ample legal power to investigate.

  • Richard Gozinya

    Thank goodness our $5.3 billion public works project called the Train to Nowhere is immune to this kind of monkey business!

    • Lopaka43

      Make your case for why you think the rail project has similar corrupt practices, citing suspicious incidents showing a similar pattern.
      In my experience all large organizations have problems of command and control, regardless of whether they are public or private organizations.
      As a result, it is probably always possible to find some monkey business going on somewhere at some time in any of these organizations . The question is it part of a systemic problem or is it an isolated incident that is vigorously dealt with when discovered.

  • Carolyn

    Odd that we are fast to blame the elected official but does anyone bother to hold the perpetrator of the ethics violation accountable? The bum that didn’t show up for work, worked the system, or those who over looked the violation aren’t being held accountable. I’m all for throwing the book at the bum who worked the system. My mom and dad taught me to give an honor day’s work for a days pay. Too bad, this doesn’t mean much any more!

    • Lopaka43

      Not sure why you feel “the bum who didn’t show up” isn’t being held accountable.

      According to the story Ian linked to, Costa was fired and has been indicted for felony theft and could spend ten years in jail as a result.

      • Allen N.

        One of the city street sweepers who was terminated after admitting to being part of a bogus OT payment scam in 2009 was rehired to work in another city dept. (Environmental Svcs.) THIS YEAR. The pattern of questionable hiring practices and the culture of corruption did not start with Caldwell’s administration, but it certainly has not ended it, either. Not by a long shot.

        • rll

          I wonder what the education level of those under scrutiny is. I think that in this tight job market the City could raise the qualification level to a BA, or at least an AA, even for a street sweeper. I think that higher qualifications might transform these departments over time.

          I’m not usually one for privatization and outsourcing. But for jobs like basic maintenance, perhaps some outsourcing would be useful in terms of identifying corruption. We see that with the privatized school bus service on Oahu that there is still corruption in terms of the business overcharging, but that can be identified and addressed. But no individual driver could get away with charging for work not done in a privatized system (much less get away with it for a lifetime) because the employer would not allow it.

  • Anonymous

    “Wouldn’t you think the city would want to beef up the commission’s investigative capacity in light of the problems being uncovered?”

    Yes. And even with the limited resources they have, it sounds like there will be more cases closed in the next few months.

  • Manoa Kahuna

    The mystery behind Caldwell’s attempts to castrate the Ethics Board continues to grow. As an earlier poster said:

    “This two-faced modus operandi is, unfortunately, perfect for fostering a culture of self-righteous hypocrisy, and that aids corruption.”

    • Lopaka43

      Refusing to approve a budget increase and seeking ethics advice from the Corporation Counsel is, as this former Idaho ranchboy knows from first hand experience, not anything close to castration.

      In my opinion, what is going on is a turf battle in the midst of a major City budget crisis.

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