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Follow County Charter in auditor selection

It hasn’t taken long for the new County Council to consider a personnel decision many on Kauai might find surprising.

The council is considering hiring Mel Rapozo, former chair of the council, as the county’s new auditor — a position that could entail internal investigation of government agencies.

Rapozo, a former Kauai Police Department officer, was first elected to the council in 2002 and served until 2008. He was reelected two years later and served until term limits made him ineligible to continue. He was chair for his final two years in office.

His resume, as presented on his campaign website last year when he ran unsuccessfully for mayor against Derek S.K. Kawakami, says he is a graduate of Everest University in Florida, an institution that lacks regional accreditation and, when Rapozo attended, was part of Corinthian Colleges, a for-profit national chain that went out of business in 2015 in the wake of scandal. It is now operated by another holding company, Zenith Education Group.

Rapozo is a Kauai High School graduate and owns and operates M&P Investigation Services, a private investigation company. He is also night auditor at a resort hotel — typically a job in which the auditor posts charges against guest bills and serves in a non-supervisory bookkeeping capacity.

The Kauai County Charter, on the other hand, sets strict requirements for the county auditor, a position that has been vacant for several years after it devolved into controversy surrounding the position’s last incumbent, Ernesto “Ernie” Pasion. It was Pasion who conducted an audit of county fuel use that raised allegations of misspent money.

Pasion was ousted in 2014 in the wake of the fuel audit controversy. He filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the county and reached a settlement of $300,000 in 2015, the same year he died from a brain tumor.

Pasion had a master’s in business administration from Roosevelt University in Chicago.

Under the charter, the county auditor must have several specific qualifications. He must, for example, be a certified public accountant or certified internal auditor or have an advanced degree in a relevant field “with at least five years experience in the field of government auditing, evaluation or analysis.”

CPA or certified internal auditor background, the charter says pointedly, “shall be preferred.”

The auditor must also have a degree in business administration or accounting, business administration or public administration or related field. And if the county auditor proposes to audit financial statements, the charter says, the individual “shall be a certified public accountant.”

Rapozo has no advanced degree and is not a CPA. Although his employment job title — for part-time work he did while on the County Council and since — contains the word “auditor,” Rapozo is not an auditor the way the County Charter is written or within its meaning. Without some “certification” in a relevant field, the charter says a person cannot be county auditor.

Yet I’m told reliably that Rapozo, who has made no secret of the fact that he wants the job of county auditor, is possibly the favored candidate and may have the votes of four of the seven County Council members who will make the hiring decision. Opposing Rapozo’s application — at least as recently as late last week — were Councilmembers Mason Chock and Luke Evslin and Council Chair Arryl Kaneshiro.

For the record, council members have declined to talk about the situation because it represents a hiring decision not yet made, but it is difficult to understand how someone whose background is so deficient in terms of meeting the basic requirements outlined in the charter could even be considered, much less appear to be a finalist.

At least one council executive session has been devoted to debate on hiring Rapozo, though the process is said to remain ongoing with no final decision. My understanding is this discussion has been under way for several weeks, though how close to a final decision deliberations have reached is not known.

Rapozo did not respond to several attempts to reach him via email and through Facebook. He did confirm he is in the running to The Garden Island. Councilmember Felicia Cowden, said to be among Rapozo’s supporters for the auditor job, told the newspaper she could not comment because of the executive session rules. Evslin said the same thing to me.

I am told that when applications were initially reviewed by county human resources personnel, Rapozo’s was rejected because he did not meet the minimum qualifications set forth in the charter.

The murky situation raises nothing but questions. Why would Councilmembers Cowden, Arthur Brun, Kipukai Kuali‘i and Ross Kagawa support Rapozo’s publicly announced candidacy for a post for which he is apparently unqualified? Does the situation reflect any kind of understanding of future county employment in the wake of Rapozo’s loss to Kawakami? Rapozo had termed off the council and could not have run again.

We are, apparently, not to know the answers to these too obvious questions.

It would be argued — and may yet be argued — that Rapozo, by virtue of his county experience, expects further county employment, as auditor. He served well and conscientiously during his several terms on the council. It would not be the first time that a politician has been rewarded for past service with a plum job after leaving office.

However, Rapozo does not appear qualified to be county auditor and this process should not go any further. For the situation to turn out otherwise would stand the County Charter on its head. If, as it does, the charter describes specific background details for a position, it should be followed to the letter, just as it is for other top management positions in county government.

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Longtime news reporter and communications executive Allan Parachini lives and makes furniture in Kilauea.
Source: The Garden Island

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