Registrar details friction at agency
The head of the state Bureau of Conveyances said yesterday he is "ultimately responsible" for the agency, yet blamed its problems on "a few dissidents" backed by their union.
Carl Watanabe told lawmakers that while serving as acting registrar from 1994 to 2002 and registrar since 2002, his attempts to discipline staffers have met with unwarranted grievances against him via the Hawaii Government Employees Association.
In addition to hearings by the House-Senate Bureau of Conveyances Investigative Committee, the agency is under investigation by the state attorney general's office and the state Ethics Commission.
In an opening statement, Watanabe testified that he has never accepted favors in the performance of his job and never accepted a trip to Las Vegas, a place he has not visited in 35 years. Those allegations had been made by some bureau employees in documents filed with the committee.
"My character and integrity were placed in question," Watanabe said. "I appear before you with a clear conscience."
Under questioning, Watanabe admitted that the bureau does not have:
» A written employee discipline procedure.
» Written policies on handling fee payments.
» An up-to-date fee schedule.
» Written agreements with subscribers to its document service.
» Contracts or agreements regarding ongoing computer maintenance or the terms of using a donated software program.
"Every attempt I've made to do corrections in the office have been resisted," Watanabe said.
Watanabe said deep divisions among bureau staffers go back to a 1994 strike. A period of time when staffers helped each other with workloads ended with union complaints that helping another section is not required in their union contract.
The work-sharing is spelled out in job descriptions under which staffers are hired, Watanabe said.
Watanabe said he has not received support from directors or deputy directors of the Department of Land and Natural Resources, which has oversight of the bureau.
It was under former DLNR Director Peter Young that Watanabe was given a "special assignment" to head a team dealing with a huge backlog of unprocessed mail. For more than a year, registrar duties were handled by deputies, and Watanabe was told not to talk to employees or the public, he said.
Interim DLNR Director Allan Smith restored Watanabe to the registrar position in late July, Watanabe said.
"Like it or not, you are responsible not just to make sure you have the recordings done, but also to manage the team and manage the money," Committee Co-chairwoman Sen. Jill Tokuda (D, Kailua-Kaneohe) told Watanabe.
The committee is required to make recommendations on improving the bureau before the 2008 Legislature.