WAILUKU - Maui County Auditor Lance Taguchi probably won't know until January if his office will be able to commit to an audit over the county administration's handling of the Old Wailuku Post Office demolition.
On Wednesday, Taguchi told the council's Committee on Policy and Intergovernmental Affairs that he is still trying to set up his office after assuming the position in July. He needs to work on procedures for his office and audits, as well as hire more personnel.
So far, Taguchi has hired former council Budget and Finance Committee analyst Scott Kaneshina to be a senior analyst for the office. But Taguchi is trying to secure another analyst.
"I understand the urgency for this matter; on the same token I must do a credible job in the audit," Taguchi told the committee of his need for more time.
Taguchi said he will be able to give the committee an answer on his ability to do an audit by early January because that is when he expects to lay out his audit plans. He added that he still needed to speak with the community, county administration and employees to see what other possible audits could be out there for his office.
Taguchi spoke to the committee as it took up his Sept. 6 written response to the committee's request to conduct an audit over the administration's possible mishandling of funds used to demolish the Old Wailuku Post Office earlier this year.
His letter also said he was delayed in committing to doing specific audits because his office was being established.
After hearing Taguchi's comments, some council members suggested hiring a third-party auditor through the county auditor's office or even hiring an outside auditor.
Taguchi said he could see some difficulty in using third-party auditors because they may not have the subpoena power to obtain certain documents and information if the people being audited were reluctant to give out information.
When asked about a third-party's subpoena powers, First Deputy Corporation Counsel Ed Kushi Jr. said that subpoena powers lie with government bodies, including the County Council and the courts. The Maui County Charter also gives the auditor subpoena powers, but those cannot be assigned to a third party.
Committee Vice Chairman Don Couch asked Taguchi how much a third-party audit could cost.
Taguchi said an audit in this matter could range from $80,000 to $100,000.
But he admitted: "That's just a guess on my part."
Council Chairwoman Gladys Baisa expressed some urgency to move the investigation along.
"Already it has been dragging (along) for six months. We would like to close the year and start new. I think we need to look at an alternative (to the county auditor's audit). I don't know what that is," Baisa said.
She added that she would wait for Committee Chairman Riki Hokama's recommendation on the matter.
Hokama said that Wednesday's meeting was to see the progress of the county auditor and follow up with him on his letter.
He added that if the council were to hire a third-party auditor, parameters would also need to be set up, which are the same procedures Taguchi is working on.
Hokama said he has scheduled another committee meeting for Monday at 9 a.m. in Council Chambers to discuss how the committee can move forward with its investigation. He also plans to share a complete timeline of events leading to the demolition of the Old Wailuku Post Office.
He is also scheduled to share a status report on the committee's progress in the investigation. He intends to send the report to the full council, he said.
The council's policy committee has taken up the investigation into Mayor Alan Arakawa's administration using funds that council members say were marked for "rehabilitation" of the old building. Instead, the money was used to demolish it and plan for a new Maui County campus, which included a new building at the post office site.
Now, the empty lot on the corner of Wells and High streets is being used for county employee parking.
Arakawa and his administration have apologized for the matter and said they should have gone before the council for a budget amendment before demolishing the building.
The administration said the demolition project was no secret. Information on the demolition plans had been announced publicly and shared with council members individually.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.