County’s Solid Waste Division audited, morale in question

LIHU‘E — Ineffective leadership and unfair practices were noted as two causes of low morale in the county’s Department of Public Work’s Solid Waste Division, a new audit confirmed.

The independent audit, conducted by Spire Hawai‘i, LLP, questioned division employees to review policies and procedures. The audit focused on policies associated with flex-time and outside employment by reviewing requests and checking compliance with county practices and state law.

The audit was requested by the Kaua‘i County Council in 2019.

In October and November of 2020, Spire sent out an employee survey with 85 questions. Only 29 of the possible 67 respondents answered.

“A response rate this low usually indicates that employees have low expectations that anything will come of the survey,” the audit states. “The most significant predictor of high response rates is the degree to which employees believe that their manager will act constructively on what is learned through the survey. The low response rate on this survey suggests a negative perception of management, which is confirmed by the ratings of those who did respond to the survey.”

The audit concluded that from the survey that employee needs are unmet, “which most likely negatively impact work quality, employee retention, and morale.”

While auditors noted that respondents found that job expectations were clear, there is no “undue stress” and employees feel their job is secure, employees were most negative toward divisional leadership, “which could be the root cause of many if not all of the other challenges in the division.”

“If employees do not feel that the leadership provides direction, is trustworthy, cares about them, listens to them, or acts in their favor, poor morale, staff retention, and quality work are all likely to suffer,” the audit said.

In open-ended questions about divisional leadership, auditors noted the division’s “need for qualified, engaged and decisive leaders who are trained in communication skills. The need for fairness and accountability was also noted, as was the need for full staffing at the chief engineer and division head levels.”

In a three-year span, several key positions within the division, like Deputy County Engineer and Fiscal Management Officer, were a “revolving door.”

Employees responded that workflow was inefficient and division leaders were unfair and “seldom reprimanded (others) because of their knowledge and duties or because supervisors are unable to deal with their difficult personalities.”

“Go after the bad apples that drag our division down. Some people need to be disciplined even when it’s hard,” one employee said.

Employees also made comments on management’s lack of communication, lack of managerial training, “chronic” sick leave and short staffing.

It was only in the Recycling Department that employees answered most questions positively.

Spire recommended supervisory and management training focusing on communication and problem-solving.

Flex-time and moonlighting

Flex-time allows employees to have compressed workweeks, part-time schedules or otherwise not be in the office. The audit found inconsistencies in the division’s flex-time policies which are “inadequate and risk operational problems and costs.”

“What is clear from the data is that division supervisors were allowed to be unavailable or absent during the regular County workday,” the audit says.

Auditors noted that the division “has no meaningful criteria for considering requests, we could not test anything more than whether approval was provided.”

In a review of 15 flex-time requests, Spire found one instance where a supervisor-level division leader was allowed a flex schedule while living in Seattle. According to Spire, the county did not require when this employee would need to be on the clock.

“The job description for this position includes supervision, calling into question how he could manage supervisory duties from another state.”

In addition to this supervisor, another high-ranking division employee had a flex schedule to reduce commute time, which auditors said “calls into question the adequacy of management and supervision in the division…”

The division’s flex-time policy also questioned whether public services are actually being provided during county work hours and if an employee’s rank or personal connections were linked to whether or not flex-time requests were approved, “as suspected by some in the employee survey.”

Auditors also found that policies for employees to have outside employment were also inadequate and not effectively administered or monitored.

A draft of the audit was provided to DPW Acting County Engineer Troy Tanigawa, who said the department was in “general agreement with the audit recommendations and have attached copies of the corrective actions to be implemented for each of the three audit findings.”

The audit will be discussed during Wednesday’s Kaua‘i County Council meeting, which starts at 8:30 a.m., and is available to be watched online at kauai.gov/Webcast-Meetings.

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Sabrina Bodon, editor, can be reached at 245-0441 or sbodon@thegardenisland.com.

9 Comments
  1. Khsgrad September 14, 2021 3:37 am Reply

    Only County and State workers take leave, on the same day, each week, to “go to” my other job…. and the boss looks the other way…. UNION Gone Wrong!!!


    1. ISgrad September 14, 2021 9:40 am Reply

      The same can be said for every other department in the county, not just solid waste. Why? Benefits. The union negotiates for these benefits with the county. If the company you work for doesn’t offer you the same kind of vacation, comp, sick, or flex time benefits that the county offers its employees don’t be jealous, go apply. If you think that’s a waste of your tax dollars, vote for somebody else, or better yet run for office and be the change yourself. How the heck is it the workers fault? Who wouldn’t take advantage of the benefits afforded to them by their employers? State and County workers are not the reason for the stereotype that they have become, it’s the system. Let’s call it systemic benefitism. And BTW this article has got to be the most non news article ever.


  2. kimo September 14, 2021 8:13 am Reply

    This type of news reporting should not be a surprise to anyone who has tried to call, visit, leave a message, or otherwise try to use “public services”. There is no accountability for performance for anyone in county government.


  3. Lillikoi September 14, 2021 9:26 am Reply

    Kauai…….


  4. Karen L Ramos September 14, 2021 11:41 am Reply

    Troy Tanigawa has been in control of solid waste for far too long.. I worked there for almost 15 years (under Tanigawa) but quit several months before I reached the 15 year mark. Supervisor at the time (most of you who still work there know whom I’m talking about) tried to get me to correct his screwed up weigh tickets so they could get the vendors who were refusing to pay based on these illegal tickets. Under licensing laws this is illegal , I could lose my license. Tanigawa could have caredless, Reported them twice to the State but they just scolded them and did nothing. After considerable harassment and threats by this supervisor for a third time I just quit. This supervisor/truck driver was protected by the admin. He wasn’t even in the same union as the scale house! As long as you have the same people in charge you will continue to have the same problems. And they wonder why the moral rate is so low? Replace Tanigawa and I bet a lot of these problems will disappear.


    1. Troi Totoi September 14, 2021 7:29 pm Reply

      File a criminal complaint with the department of Justice for fraud, waste, and abuse with regards to public corruption.

      They have a timeline and all complaints must be investigated.

      Fight the good fight.


  5. Karen L Ramos September 14, 2021 12:59 pm Reply

    Did you know that Troy Tanigawa never went to school for an engineering degree? He just studied the test questions, took the test and passed.That’s why he’s an “acting” DPW Engineer. And he’s paid how much? And you wonder why there are so many problems?


  6. J, Berry September 14, 2021 3:49 pm Reply

    Next audit should be Ocean Safety. Half of them use their comp/sick days for their “other job”. Their other job?? Guarding Mark Zuckerberg.


  7. sue September 16, 2021 7:26 am Reply

    Perhaps a customer survey would be helpful. This is a way the public can give feedback to the county regarding workers ability to do their jobs well. I just recently wrote a letter to a supervisor regarding some poor work practices that I observed during an office visit.


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