DHHL under fire for creating positions when vacancies are high - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

DHHL under fire for creating positions when vacancies are high

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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

The troubled Department of Hawaiian Home Lands has come under criticism by state lawmakers for asking for the money to expand its staff by one third while about 42 percent of its positions are vacant.

For decades, thousands of native Hawaiians have been waiting for low-cost leases and hundreds of them die each year without getting them. So legislators are concerned more of the jobs haven’t been filled because they might help decrease the backlog.

The chair of the Hawaiian Home Lands Commission, Jobie Masagatani, asked lawmakers for $1.4 million to expand its staff by 64 people.

"So that we could provide services to the beneficiaries that are quality. Not necessarily A-plus but certainly not D-minus, where we are right now," Masagatani told an informational briefing of the legislature’s money committees last Thursday.

Lawmakers were alarmed to learn the 64 requested new posts would be on top of 190 current jobs, 80 of which are vacant.

"If you're having trouble filling these current vacancies, how are you going to fill those 64 more positions?" asked State Sen. Donna Kim, (D- Kalihi Valley, Kapalama and Moanalua).

Masagatani said, "That is a very fair concern and something, as I mentioned, is of the highest priority for this chair, for me, as the director. And we're meeting twice a month to try to crack this nut."

Masagatani said the problem is the department has many vacancies in the wrong places.

"We have a number of clerical vacancies, but what we need are professionals. You have to change the job description. You have to do mini-reorganizations, all of those kinds of challenges," Masagatani said. "The implementation of that is absolutely where we are having challenges. That's why I've moved that section up to the chairman's office to say 'OK, we need to get on this. We need to move forward.'"

A Hawaiian homestead leader said there are several systemic problems at the agency.

"This is a problem of well over a decade, where there's constant vacancies and they don't move efficiently or even inefficiently to reorganize those positions," said Robin Danner, chairman of the Statewide Council of Hawaiian Homestead Associations, who lives in Anahola, Kauai.

"They don't need more staffing. They need a new philosophy and a change in viewing how they get things done," Danner said.

The Home Lands department has only two personnel clerks and has been searching for a third personnel clerk to help fill the open positions for two years, with no success.

"You only have two personnel staff and you have this huge, almost 50 percent vacancy in the department?" said an exasperated State Rep. Bertrand Kobayashi, (D- Kahala, Kaimuki, Kapahulu).

DHHL has so much room at its relatively new headquarters in Kapolei that it's renting out space to house 20 staffers from UH West Oahu.

Homelands officials said they expect to make 630 lots available to native Hawaiian beneficiaries in this next year, but 27,000 people remain on the waiting list. And 37 of them died waiting last month.

In late November, a circuit judge ruled that the state violated its constitutional duty to appropriately fund the department and is obligated to budget about $18.4 million more this year for the department. Legislative leaders are planning to appeal that ruling.

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