After months of searching for a qualified candidate to fill the newly created county auditor position, members of the Maui County Council Budget and Finance Committee on Wednesday unanimously supported the appointment of the man they think is right for the job.
The committee recommended Lance Taguchi, current deputy county clerk, for the auditor position for a six-year term ending in 2019. Taguchi's appointment to the position will not be finalized until the next County Council meeting on June 25, when members of the public will have a chance to testify.
A total of 17 applicants submitted resumes to the committee's Temporary Investigative Group made up of budget committee Chairman Mike White, committee Vice Chairman Riki Hokama and Council Member Don Couch. The group narrowed the interview process to six final candidates, many of whom were experienced auditors from the Mainland. After conducting interviews and checking each candidate's references, the task group decided Taguchi was the best candidate.
In line to be county auditor
"I approached this thinking we needed someone from the outside to keep us on track, and we had some very strong candidates from the Mainland," White said. "But after reviewing all the resumes and calling references, Mr. Taguchi's references simply blew me away. Each spoke to his integrity, honesty, hard work . . . his ability to have rapport with a variety of people."
"When doing an audit, part of it is asking questions and hoping that people who see problems with government (spending) feel comfortable reporting misdeeds to the auditor," White said.
White added that it would be easier for Taguchi, a Maui native and already familiar with county operations, to organize and set up the new Office of the County Auditor rather than hiring someone from the Mainland who is unfamiliar with county procedures.
"I'm very comfortable with the selection," White said.
Taguchi said in an interview after the committee meeting that he had hesitated to submit his resume for the position at first because he felt the public may have thought that his work with county officials for the past 13 years may compromise his independence and integrity as an objective third-party auditor.
"Some people were concerned because I have a background in government as well as the private sector. I understand that," said Taguchi. "But throughout my career, I have tried to and I have shown that I have integrity. I am invested in this county. I grew up here, I live here, my children are here. If I didn't think I could be independent, I wouldn't have applied for this position."
Taguchi has worked for Maui County since 2000, holding positions as an executive assistant to the mayor, a legislative analyst for the Budget and Finance Committee and his current position as deputy county clerk. He said that even though the Office of the County Clerk represents less than 2 percent of the county budget appropriations, he is willing to hire a third-party auditor to investigate work that he has done in order to safeguard the audit against suspicions of bias.
In his more than 30 years of experience, he also has worked as a field auditor for the state, a consultant for the Maui Arts & Cultural Center and as an auditor in the private sector. He holds a master of accounting degree from the University of Hawaii and is a licensed certified public accountant.
"I have nothing but praise for his technical knowledge, work ethic and especially for his patience and ability to share his knowledge and work with others," former county Budget Director Lloyd Ginoza said in public testimony Wednesday. "We did not always agree, but Lance was always understanding and respectful of our differences."
All other counties in the state already have established auditor offices, according to Taguchi. Maui County did not amend the county charter to establish the Office of the County Auditor until voters approved it in last November's General Election.
Because the county was having difficulty finding qualified candidates for the job, the Salary Commission approved in April a salary increase for the county auditor position from $100,000 to $117,000.
As this is a new position, the appointed auditor's job will be not only to conduct audit functions but also to set up the Office of the County Auditor, which includes finding and equipping office space, hiring and managing staff and laying the groundwork for start-up operations, according to county officials.
Taguchi said one of his primary goals, if appointed, is to "help the public have confidence in how their tax dollars are being spent."
He says it is critical to maintain independence of mind and in appearance, which are "Yellow Book" government auditing standards set by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.
"I've come to know that there may be a lot of things said, but when you rely on facts, the investigation, your professional judgment and adhering to professional standards, these things carry a lot of weight. I think the investigation itself will help convince the public (of) the facts."
* Eileen Chao can be reached at email@example.com.