City investigates excessive medical leave problem

City investigates possible sick leave abuse by road test examiners

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The city is facing a problem with excessive medical leave taken by some driver license examiners. The absences are part of a staffing shortage problem that is causing many people to camp out overnight for a chance to take the road test.

Hours before the doors opened, people waited outside the driver license office in Kalihi. Hawaii News Now learned that the first person who showed up at noon on Sunday was paid $150 to hold the spot for someone else. For Salt Lake resident Ramiro Rivera, this was his second time in line for a walk-in road test.

"I've been trying to fall asleep on the concrete but it's really, really uncomfortable," said Rivera. "Honestly, if I can't sleep then that's kind of a dangerous situation to be in."

Over in Wahiawa, a few people lined up in the darkness. Others left after spotting a sign that said there would likely be only two walk-in slots open on Monday morning.

"I guess try again tomorrow, more earlier," said 18-year-old Joshua Galanto of Waipahu.

Several people set up chairs on the sidewalk in Kapolei and tried to sleep in their cars.

"I've seen people camp out here with tents and stuff, and some people brought like little barbeque things," said 16-year-old applicant Cody Kekuna.

"This is very out of the norm for people to have to spend the night for what I would consider simple government services," said Cody Cullins-East of Waianae. He saved a spot in line for his stepfather.

People camp out at all five driver license offices on Oahu. According to the city, there are a total of 61 scheduled appointments per day on Mondays and Wednesdays when the Waianae office is open. There are 57 slots on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Applicants can schedule an online reservation, but the next available appointment is more than three months away. All that waiting is especially tough when there is no nearby restroom that is open.

"I experienced a lot of people saying, 'I can't go to the restroom cause if I come back I'm not going have a seat. They're going to pull my chair out.' So honestly, in Kapolei, if you look in the bush, there is toilet paper," said Kettiecherie Hoomana. She accompanied her daughter-in-law who unsuccessfully tried several times to take the road test.

By the time the offices opened, people were anxious to find out exactly how many walk-ins would be accepted. The number varies by day depending on the road test examiners that come to work.

"I'm having a problem right now with several of my examiners out on long-term medical leave and several on short-term medical leave, and that gives us staff shortage," explained Sheri Kajiwara, director of the Department of Customer Services.

There are 22 full-time examiners, but Kajiwara said on average only about 70% show up, prompting questions about possible sick leave abuse. According to her, two of them have been out on extended medical leave for at least a year. The workers earn 21 sick days annually.

"People tend to call in sick the day before, day after long weekends. Fridays, Mondays, we're noticing we're short on staff," she said.

The Department of Customer Services just got the green light to fill six examiner positions that were vacant due to budget cuts. The candidates have been interviewed and those selected just need to pass the necessary clearances, according to the city. Kajiwara hoped that they could start by May 15. She said she was pleased, but added that she believed 12 examiners would be needed to really make a dent in the backlog. Officials also want to reassign paperwork to other employees to free up time for more road tests, but there are union restrictions from the Hawaii Government Employees Association.

"I'm hearing the complaints. I understand what people are going through and to me it should not be that hard to get a basic government service," Kajiwara said.

Six seasonal hires assist the department during peak times such as spring break, summer vacation and winter break.

Follow Lisa Kubota:   

Copyright 2014 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.