Dispute clouds Public Safety decision
Critics of a nominee for director say her style of management stirs ill will
By B.J. Reyes
After hearing nearly 10 hours of testimony over two days, a Senate panel considering Gov. Linda Lingle's nominee to head the Department of Public Safety will take another week before making its decision.
The confirmation fight over Iwalani D. White comes after about a dozen current and former employees from the agency testified against her nomination, citing a management style that has led to low morale and feelings of ill will within the department.
White was appointed by Lingle in July to head the department, which has been without a permanent director since November 2004.
"Much of the line of questioning and the opposition had to do with decisions she has made and judgments she has made within the last seven months," said Senate Public Safety Chairman Will Espero (D, Ewa-Honouliuli-Ewa Beach). "As the interim director, she is going through on-the-job training, and how she handles that is very important because that's where much of her opposition has come from.
"We will take all of the comments ... we will look at all the testimony again, of course, and make the best decision."
A decision-making hearing on the nomination is set for Thursday.
"I think that this is a very valuable process for me," White said after yesterday's hearing. "Some of the criticism I'm going to take to heart because it has pointed out some of my shortcomings.
"It's something I need to work on, but the process overall was fair and it was very constructive."
White faced three hours of questioning from the committee, which focused on her handling of internal investigations of complaints.
Employees, some subpoenaed to testify, said White never fully communicated to them the reasons for being investigated, leading to uncertainty about their job status.
Others testified they were put on leave without pay after theft allegations were made by a single source. The allegations centered on theft of equipment, including air conditioners and a mulcher, at the Women's Community Correctional Center.
Although no criminal charges were found and all the equipment was accounted for, the employees still face an administrative investigation to determine if any department policies were broken.
The five employees involved in the investigation all testified against White's nomination.
White said she sympathized with the individuals, but added that all of the investigations and disciplinary action were taken after full consultation with attorneys, wardens and other prison administrators.
"Any complaint should initiate some level of investigation," she said. "It's a balancing act -- if I fail to act, what harm will occur?"
She said in some cases, feelings of mistrust stemmed from employees' misunderstanding of the investigative process and her unwillingness to share information because of the potential to compromise an ongoing investigation.
White added that in hindsight she believes she could have been more communicative, and she will take that into consideration if she is confirmed for the post.