Board OKs former employee’s involvement in contract


HILO — A former county employee who designed the bid specifications and helped choose the contractor for the first phase of the Kaloko Housing program got clearance Wednesday to submit a proposal for an expanded second phase in his new job with the nonprofit organization that won the first bid.

No county money comes with the contract, but the contractor is paid through federally backed rents on the units, worth more than $550,000 annually.

Jeremy McComber left his job heading the Community Development Division of the county Office of Housing and Community Development on July 31. He took a job Aug. 1 as director of operations for HOPE Services Hawaii Inc., which won the bid to manage the first phase of the affordable housing project in December 2011. McComber had worked for the county for 12 years.

The Kaloko project, dubbed “Na Kahu Hale O Ulu Wini,” is located in Kailua-Kona. The first phase of the project comprised 40 units. Construction of the second phase, with 36 additional units, is now wrapping up, with tenants expected to be selected June 1.

McComber told the county Board of Ethics he had no inside knowledge of the new request for proposals for property management and social support services for the expanded project.

The county ethics code bars county agencies from entering into contracts with “any person or business which represented or assisted personally in the matter or by a person who has been an employee of the agency within the preceding two years and who participated while in county office or employment in the matter with which the contract is directly concerned.”

Another section of the ethics code says former county employees within 12 months of leaving employment cannot “assist and/or represent any person or business or act in a representative capacity for a fee, compensation, or other consideration … in relation to any specific case, proceeding, contract, application or pending legislation with which the former officer or employee, in the course of the former officer or employee’s official duties with the county had been directly concerned.”

After questioning McComber, the board unanimously voted that his participation in responding to the request for proposals did not violate either section of the ethics code. The board will vote on the language of its formal finding at its next meeting.

“You tell us it’s a completely separate contract,” said board member Arne Henricks. “It may be the same type of contract, but it’s not the same contract.”

Chairman Bernard Balsis Jr. agreed.

“While there’s some similarities, it’s very different,” Balsis said. “It’s a much broader scope.”

Twenty-four of the total units are transitional housing, with short-term rents of about $200 per month, said Housing Director Stephen Arnett. One unit is for an on-site manager.

The remaining 51 units rent for $900 a month and up and are funded through federal Section 8 housing vouchers, depending on the tenant’s income. The county used federal Community Development Block Grants to build the structures.

The management and social support services that are the basis of the contract in question are paid through the rents, and no county money goes toward the contract, McComber said. Support services include programs such as specialized case management, nutrition, childcare and education programs, career counseling and vocational training and support groups or help with substance abuse treatment.

Arnett said a panel of his division heads will rank the proposals individually based on a predetermined scale. Then he will sit with the panel and go through the proposals.

The request for proposals allocates 55 percent of the ranking on proposed implementation and viability, 35 percent on qualifications and experience and 10 percent on references. Proposals are due May 23.

Arnett said McComber being a former employee won’t sway the decision.

“This RFP is dramatically different,” Arnett said. “Just because Jeremy was one of my employees doesn’t give him an automatic pass.”