City faces
whistleblower suit

A former employee claims she
lost her job after reporting
illegal use of federal funds

A former city employee alleges she was forced out of her job because she accused a Harris administration official of misusing federal funds.

In a lawsuit filed yesterday, Nancy Olipares said that her removal as executive director of the Oahu Workforce Investment Board violated the state Whistleblower Protection Act. She asked for back pay, lost benefits and other damages in the suit against the City and County of Honolulu and unnamed individuals.

The suit alleges that Michael Amii, former director of the city Department of Customer Services, refused to renew her contract for the board position in June 2003, and a year earlier forced her to resign from a civil service position by refusing to extend a two-year leave of absence.

In the suit, she alleges that "Michael Amii's actions were motivated by a retaliatory animus against plaintiff for her reporting his illegal use of federal funds, and her insistence that the Oahu Workforce Investment Board operate independently from the City and County as required by federal law."

Olipares accused the city administration of wrongfully using federal money to pay for a trip by Amii and City Councilman Gary Okino to Washington, D.C. They attended the 2002 Legislative Conference of the National Association of Counties, and regional meeting of the National Association of Workforce Boards. Olipares made the complaint in March 2003 to Workforce Investment Board Chairwoman Christine McColgan, according to the suit.

In an unrelated case, Amii, volunteer coordinator in former Mayor Jeremy Harris' derailed gubernatorial campaign, was arrested in 2002 during a city prosecutor's probe into campaign irregularities. He pleaded not guilty in July 2003 to third-degree theft for ordering a staffer to work on Harris' political campaign while on the city payroll. He paid a fine and restitution for the misdemean- or count, but was not removed from his job as department head.

Olipares' suit said that the city administration "interfered" with her work for the board, which was intended by federal law to be "a policy-making board charged with ... oversight of the city's administration of and spending of training dollars for workforce development."

Olipares said that during her three years as executive director, she raised concerns about the city administration "improperly interfering and trying to influence decisions" and reminded the board that "federal law required it to maintain independence ... in order to perform its oversight functions."

Olipares was employed by the city beginning in November 1985 and was the strategic marketing manager in the Community Services Department from the early 1990s. She took the board post, a contract position, in December 2000. She is represented by attorney David Simons.

City & County of Honolulu

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