Tuesday, September 18, 2001

personal ties

The Felix committee looks into
the nature of a relationship he
had with a contractor

By Crystal Kua

A joint House-Senate investigative committee is looking into whether a controversial contract with a Hilo-based mental health service provider came about as a result of a "personal relationship" between state Schools Superintendent Paul LeMahieu and the service provider's coordinator.

"All that we have been able to ascertain is that it's some kind of a personal relationship that everyone is speculating results with the contract," Sen. Colleen Hanabusa, co-chairwoman of the committee said yesterday at the conclusion of a hearing. "We don't know what that relationship is at this time."

The committee is scrutinizing costs associated with the Felix consent decree, the federal mandate to improve educational and mental health services in public schools.

Meanwhile, the committee announced that it will issue more than two dozen subpoenas including one to Kaniu Kinimaka-Stocksdale, whose Na Laukoa company received a $600,000 contract to provide services to Big Island students under the Felix consent decree.

The contract included a $170,000 payment to the program coordinator, according to testimony.

Na Laukoa was listed as a subcontractor in a larger $2.3 million contract awarded to the Pacific Resources for Education and Learning.

The PREL contract was approved by LeMahieu, who until earlier this year sat on PREL's board.

The committee's attorney, James Kawashima, questioned two Department of Education officials who had raised concerns over Na Laukoa's qualifications.

"One of the things that you heard from more than one person who gave you information about Na Laukoa was that the contract with Na Laukoa was entered into because of the superintendent's personal relationship with the coordinator of Na Laukoa," Kawashima asked Robert Golden, director of the Department of Education's student support services branch, which oversees special education.

"The only thing that I heard was that he may have known of this service provider," Golden responded.

Debra Farmer told the committee that she had to train Na Laukoa staff on procedures they should have already known. Farmer oversees special education for the DOE.

Kinimaka-Stocksdale and LeMahieu could not be reached for comment.

Golden testified that he wrote a letter to LeMahieu recommending that the department not award a contract to Na Laukoa. Golden said he was unimpressed by the group after sitting in on a presentation.

Golden said others in the department also expressed "strong reservations" about the program.

"The Na Laukoa is so unusual given the fact that you had so many who were opposed to it," Hanabusa said.

Golden also voiced his concerns about Na Laukoa to the Board of Education leadership and Felix court monitor Ivor Groves.

Golden testified that LeMahieu expressed displeasure at Golden going to the board.

Golden said that from that point on, he was left out of decision making on issues that he previously would have been included on.

The committee also grilled Deputy Attorney General Russell Suzuki yesterday about why his office didn't scrutinize more carefully the attorney's fees paid to Felix plaintiff's attorneys Shelby Floyd and Eric Seitz.

Hanabusa said the committee plans to continue its review of the fees and announced that Floyd and Seitz will also be subpoenaed.

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