State of Hawaii

State historic division
draws auditor’s

Marion Higa charges mismanagement
is jeopardizing artifacts

By Crystal Kua

The state agency responsible for protecting and preserving historic artifacts and places and digging up ancient bones has a few skeletons of its own, a state audit says.

The State Historic Preservation Division, already wracked with criticism over how the office is run, is mismanaged to the point where protection of Hawaii's cultural and historical properties is in jeopardy, state Auditor Marion Higa says.

The 28-employee division, which falls under the Department of Land & Natural Resources, is responsible for a number of historic preservation duties including keeping an inventory of about 38,000 historic properties, reviewing federal, state and county projects that affect historic properties, managing ancient burial sites and responding to the inadvertent discovery of ancient remains.

Outgoing DLNR Director Gilbert Coloma-Agaran wrote a letter in response to the audit. In the letter, Agaran said that low morale and staff cuts over the years are contributing to some of the personnel problems.

He said that because of continued "discrepancies" in employee leave, the department plans to reopen its investigation of all issues identified in the audit.

According to the audit, examples of problems in the division include:

>> Reviews of archaeological reports are delayed by months and sometimes years.

>> An employee who is also a church minister accepted a $1,000 donation to his church from a developer of a multimillion-dollar development in Kona after the staff member gave inconsistent reasons for recommending removal of some Hawaiian burial sites from that development instead of preserving them. The cash donation "appears unethical," the audit says.

>> Human skeletal remains and other burial objects are not adequately inventoried. Staff could not find two of 35 sets of remains requested by Higa's staff.

>> DLNR "bungled" a fraud investigation involving alleged abuses of vacation leave, sick leave and overtime. The audit said that the department investigation was "substandard" and that the DLNR director at the time did not continue the department's investigation to see if criminal charges were warranted.

>> Maintenance of division vehicles were lacking. Cars with flat tires and expired safety checks were being kept.

Among the recommendations in the stinging 52-page audit is a leadership change -- including the replacement of administrator Don Hibbard -- with more "competent leadership" if those currently in charge "prove unable or unwilling to disallow staff from placing their personal interests before that of the division."

Higa is also recommending that the governor intervene to make sure that management of the division improves.

Hibbard said the audit of his division is flawed.

"The information presented (in the audit) is not accurate or is taken out of context -- that's a problem. Then conclusions are reached based on that information -- that's a problem too," he said.

For example, a table listing all the delayed archaeological reviews did not put the delays into the constraints staff had to work under to do those reviews, he said.

Higa's audit of the division came about as a result of a resolution passed by the Legislature this past session.

During a hearing last March on the resolution, critics called on lawmakers to audit the division because of allegations of mismanagement and of staff taking shopping trips, watching TV, staying on extended lunch breaks and frequent absences from the office during the workday.

The division response to the audit said that the division will undertake some of the recommendations on record-keeping and inventory.

Office of the Auditor
ERS report overview (PDF)

State Historic Preservation Division
State of Hawaii

E-mail to City Desk


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