HILO — The Hawaii County Council on Tuesday postponed a request for an audit of the Department of Environmental Management until council members could help the legislative auditor narrow the scope of the audit to areas of specific concern.
“It’s a big division. It would take you two years to do the entire division,” said Hilo Councilman Donald Ikeda. “We do need a priority list.”
Council members made it clear, however, that the Division of Solid Waste is first in line for an audit. Earlier this year, Solid Waste began trucking almost all of Hilo’s garbage to the West Hawaii landfill, even as Mayor Billy Kenoi assured residents at a Kona Town Hall meeting that the administration had no intention to do so. The so-called “pilot project” was terminated after West Hawaii Today made it public.
“This department has shown a lack of openness, and this practice has harmed the public’s trust,” said North Kona Councilman Angel Pilago, sponsor of Resolution 270. “This will give the department another chance to be open and transparent.”
The council is likely to take the issue up again at the next council meeting, said Chairman Dominic Yagong.
DEM Business Manager Robin Bauman, in answer to a question from Kohala Councilman Pete Hoffmann, said her department will cooperate with any audit.
Auditor Colleen Schrandt said public perception is one area of audit concern. Others are financial, health and safety, legal compliance and public safety. She said she welcomes council input.
“I’m thrilled that this came forward,” Schrandt said. “While we are independent, we should attempt to address the areas of concern of the council, the administration and the public.”
South Kona Councilwoman Brenda Ford said the stealth pilot project was “devastating” to Kenoi’s perceived credibility, and she stressed the importance of public perception.
“Public perception is not a figment of the public’s imagination in this case,” Ford said. “It’s a reality.”
Several members of the public also spoke in favor of an audit of the Solid Waste Division.
Margaret Wille, speaking from Waimea, said an audit of the department is a good idea. She said the department has been slow in implementing needed programs, such as green waste drop-offs at transfer stations, rewritten hauling contracts to save money and readdressing diversion grants that pay recyclers when they can’t get market rates.
“There’s clearly been a lack of performance, a lack of results,” said Wille, who is running to replace Hoffmann on the council. He is not not eligible for re-election because of term limits. “It’s angered people all around the county.”
Toby Hazel, speaking from Pahoa, noted the county last year expanded the Pahoa transfer station at a cost of $3.9 million. She asked why it wasn’t being used.
“The mayor is sneaking the garbage out in the middle of the night and taking it somewhere else,” she said.
In a related action, the council unanimously advanced Bill 263 on first reading to expand the powers of the Environmental Management Commission. The bill allows the commission to forward recommendations and comments about pending legislation to the county council and also allows the commission to advise the department on solid waste and wastewater programs, including pilot projects and programs.
The sponsor of the bill, Ka‘u Councilwoman Brittany Smart, said she’s been working on the bill since last year, but additional criteria were added after the trash-hauling uproar.