Thursday, October 18, 2001

LeMahieu denies links
to owner of Felix provider

The schools chief says their
relationship did not sway a contract

By Crystal Kua

A business associate and friend is how state schools Superintendent Paul LeMahieu described a woman whose Hilo company has a controversial contract with the Department of Education to assist in the Felix consent decree.

But allegations that the two have had an "intimate, personal relationship" are not true, LeMahieu said.

LeMahieu's comments came yesterday after a joint House-Senate investigative committee scrutinizing costs associated with the federal consent decree heard testimony about that relationship from the part-owner of a company that provides services to special-needs children.

Tina McLaughlin, part-owner of Child and Adolescent Resources for Education Inc., or CARE Hawaii, which provides mental health services to special-needs children, testified that she had a conversation with Kaniu Kinimaka-Stocksdale this past June about her relationship with LeMahieu.

"Well, I said, 'Seems like Dr. LeMahieu's very special,' and then she acknowledged that he was and talked extensively about their relationship," McLaughlin said.

McLaughlin agreed with a description offered by committee attorney James Kawashima that LeMahieu and Kinimaka-Stocksdale had "an intimate, personal relationship."

The committee has asked several witnesses previously about the relationship, including Department of Education employees who opposed awarding the contract to Kinimaka-Stocksdale's company. They are trying to determine whether this relationship led to the awarding of the contract.

McLaughlin also testified that Kinimaka-Stocksdale also asked for her support of LeMahieu to be the "Felix czar." Kinimaka-Stocksdale heads a company called Na Laukoa, which was awarded a $600,000 subcontract last year as part of a larger, $2.3 million contract awarded to Pacific Resources for Education and Learning. The PREL contract was approved by LeMahieu.

LeMahieu said he used special powers conveyed upon him by a federal judge to bypass the state procurement laws to enter into the contract to meet requirements set by the consent decree. The decree is aimed at improving the delivery of mental health and educational services to special-needs students.

LeMahieu said PREL was brought in to help Na Laukoa with administrative functions, which he and others in the department felt they were not equipped to handle.

LeMahieu defended the contract yesterday and the work that Na Laukoa did in helping the 15 toughest school complexes reach consent decree compliance.

LeMahieu said eight of those complexes -- high schools and schools that feed into them -- have gone through the testing needed to reach compliance. Of those eight, six have passed and two were close to passing.

LeMahieu said information coming out of the legislative committee has "mischaracterized" the contract.

He characterized his dealings with Kinimaka-Stocksdale at the time the contract was reached last year as "business associates, working on a project together, developing some measure of a friendship."

He said they attended three or four social events including the Merrie Monarch hula festival in spring 2000. He said Kinimaka-Stocksdale was a hula dancer. "She was a guide. She taught me what was going on there."

Sometimes their spouses would also attend these events, and sometimes they went alone but with the knowledge of their spouses, LeMahieu said.

"On at least three or four occasions, Kaniu and I did things that people working on a project would do," LeMahieu said.

Attempts to reach Kinimaka-Stocksdale last night were unsuccessful.

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