CHAIR’S 3 MINUTES
Published in the Maui News, June 25, 2017
By: MIKE WHITE
Time and time again, the public sees news headlines about the county’s Department of Public Works’ Highways Division. An investigation was launched following allegations of improprieties in May 2015 relating to the infamous commercial kitchen at the Wailuku baseyard, and is still ongoing.
A former Highways Division chief also lodged a federal whistleblower lawsuit bringing new allegations of theft, pCard misuse, mismanagement and a lack of proper oversight. For the most part, parties have clammed up citing the ongoing litigation.
It will take time for these investigations and allegations to get sorted out by the administration, police or the courts. This does not mean the County Council should idly wait to take action. Whatever the outcome, the allegations alone have already shaken the public’s confidence in government.
In this spirit, I will ask the appropriate council standing committees to complete an in-depth review of the Department of Public Works’ Highways Division. Furthermore, I intend to introduce for consideration a resolution to authorize a financial and performance audit of the division.
A survey from the fiscal year 2018 budget session indicated audits of programs and departments as a top priority among the community, and I agree. It is only reasonable to expect government to operate in the most efficient and effective manner.
The Highways Division plays an important role in our county and is primarily funded through vehicle registration, weight and fuel taxes. These taxes and fees generate nearly $45 million per year for the highway fund and can only be spent on roadways or public transportation.
Funds are split between the Department of Transportation, which expends approximately $12 million for public transportation, and $34 million for the Highways Division. Property tax revenues, on the other hand, fund most other county operations.
Roads are vital to our daily lives, and this division maintains county streets through brush cutting, resurfacing, street sweeping, drainage and bridge maintenance and traffic management. They are also the first responders in inclement weather to clear and reopen our roadways. Highways Division employees are vital to keeping our streets operating smoothly and most are longtime, honest and hardworking public servants.
In the best interest of taxpayer dollars, however, it is important for an audit to focus on internal controls over spending and approval processes of purchases. This must include the use of purchasing cards, the procurement process for goods and services, and the approval of purchase orders and contracts, specifically for large equipment. A methodical way to confirm county funds are being spent in the most judicious and proper manner must also be identified so another commercial kitchen situation does not occur.
The audit must also identify what additional measures can be put in place after a purchase is made to guarantee it is only used for official business.
Allegations have been made of county-purchased auto parts being installed in personal vehicles and the use of county garages for private businesses. Using county property for personal gain is not only unethical, it is illegal. It can be avoided through more effective controls by management.
The disposal of large equipment must also be reviewed to ensure dual controls are in place so a fair replacement value is received for any county equipment no longer in use.
Taxpayers deserve better, and it is my hope that the council can help to restore public trust in county operations. As public stewards, we can never lose sight of the fact that county dollars are your dollars. We must treat it with the highest level of respect, integrity and responsibility.