Auditor still under scrutiny

LIHUE — The Kauai County Council met with county attorneys Thursday afternoon behind closed doors to discuss the future of Ernie Pasion as the county auditor. The executive session adds to several others the council has had on the matter in the last few months.

“I hope he is not going to be punished for his integrity, and that you will honor the things that he has come up with because of his integrity,” retired teacher Jean Oda said prior to the executive session.

Last year, former Prosecuting Attorney Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho unsuccessfully tried to criminally prosecute Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. and former Executive on Transportation Janine Rapozo on county fuel theft charges, piggy-backing on an fuel audit report prepared by Pasion.

It was around that time that former internal auditor Ron Rawls left the County Auditor’s Office and was hired by the State of Hawaii Office of the Auditor. Rawls has since sued the county for damages from an alleged constructive discharge.

Oda said Pasion wasn’t pointing fingers at anyone when he pointed out concerns in the audit reports. He was just pointing out problems that needed solutions, she said.

“Don’t punish a person who is trying to help,” Oda said.

Though the posting for the executive session — to consider the hire, evaluation, dismissal or discipline of an officer or employee, and chargers against the officer or employee — had neither Pasion’s name nor his position, public speakers gave away whom it concerned.

Oda said she came to the council chambers because she had just been informed of a meeting concerning Pasion. She said she hoped she was in the right place at the right time.

“You’re in the right place, and it’s the only item, Jean, that’s on the agenda,” Council Chair Jay Furfaro said.

Retired judge Alfred Laureta said most of the current council members had worked with Pasion back when he was a deputy county clerk, and were the ones who confirmed him as the first county auditor.

“I hope I can find out later what it is that he has done that has caused you to even think about the possibility of firing him,” he said.

Every audit Pasion has “seemingly performed” has been great, said Laureta, who praised the county auditor’s integrity.

“His professional job has perhaps revealed to you things that are not necessarily going right in the operations of the county — that is what he’s been hired to do,” Laureta said.

This is the very reason there is a county auditor, to let the council know what’s going wrong with county operations, he said, and the remedy rests with the council.

“I just hope that what he may have revealed in his audit reports does not necessarily mean, ‘Hey, this guy is looking a little too much under the table when he shouldn’t,’” Laureta said. “Well, that’s what he is supposed to do — he is supposed to find what’s going on under the table, over the table, whatever.”

He said some people may not like Pasion because he has “a little Filipino accent in his speech,” but that doesn’t make him any less efficient, less honest or less able to do a good job.

“I do hope that in your executive session you do give him a fair opportunity to present his side and rebuttal to whatever accusations may be against him,” Laureta said.

Lihue resident Joe Rosa also defended Pasion.

“Ernie is doing a job with enthusiasm and with his sprit,” he said. “It took guts to do the work that he is doing.”

And credit is due for the six audits he has done, Rosa said.

He criticized the council for conducting the meeting behind closed doors.

“The public deserves that right to know what is going on in our government,” said Rosa, adding the executive session behind closed doors can lead to the “fall of democracy.”

However, Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura said the closed session was to protect the auditor’s privacy, though he was offered the option of conducing the meeting in the open.

“For the record, he was given a choice of having an open session but declined,” Yukimura said.

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