It turns out that a longtime elections worker who could be on the job in the Elections Office is not–but is being paid. The attorney for fired Elections Office administrator Pat Nakamoto on Wednesday said she’s been placed on “administrative leave,” despite being reinstated by the Hawaii County Human Resources Division.
There have been numerous concerns expressed about the readiness and capability of the Hawaii County Elections Office to manage this year’s election, as there is a new County Clerk who by her own admission has never managed an election before, and many new staff members. In testimony before the State Elections Commission in May, in response to questions by the Commissioners about her background and experience, she repeatedly replied that she has “a general understanding of election laws, administration, and operation.” But she also acknowledged she had never held a position in the County nor in any elections office.
The Commission recommended that Kawauchi explore bringing in somebody with elections experience, to include the possibility of re-hiring former staff. Commissioners also recommended that Hawaii County Council Member Dennis “Fresh” Onishi , who had expressed concern to the Elections Commission about the readiness of Hawaii County to conduct elections, ask that the matter be discussed at a Hawaii County Council meeting. To date, that discussion has not occurred, although Council Member Onishi has asked Chair Dominic Yagong to put the item on the agenda.
County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi had fired Pat Nakamoto following allegations of Nakamoto’s permitting drinking on county property and storage of alcohol on county property and allowing an employee to operate a private business out of the County elections warehouse.
Nakamoto filed a grievance and has been officially reinstated by the Hawaii County Human Resources Department after a hearing, but she is not back on the job and Kawauchi has not commented on when Nakamoto might return nor why she’s not on the job.
On Wednesday, Nakamoto’s attorney, Ted Hong, said Nakamoto did return but Kawauchi immediately put her on “administrative leave, ” with full pay, with no explanation as to why she’s on leave. Nakamoto is ready to go back to work–at a job critical to the County’s election process–but for now, is getting paid not to work–and she doesn’t know why.
And questions about Hawaii County Elections Division’s readiness for the election remain unanswered.