Fire chief summoned to Council following investigation into overtime, spending

Updated: Nov. 2, 2020 at 5:49 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Honolulu Fire Chief Manuel Neves will answer questions from City Council Budget Committee members on Nov. 18 after an investigation into overtime records.

The investigation was launched in March after the department was accused of misusing public funds.

Councilman Joey Manahan requested the city Department of Budget and Fiscal Services review the case and what investigators found in just a small sample was enough to raise concern.

Nearly a third of all the overtime transactions the department reviewed had noted discrepancies ― 128 out of 390 transactions. Also found: 503 overtime hours didn’t have required forms.

Budget and Fiscal Services pointed out that the lack of documentation made it difficult to identify instances of fraud or abuse, but did show “obvious errors in the timekeeping system."

“Disappointing,” said Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi, “Just basic accounting.”

The BFS review was limited in scope, focusing on the Charles H. Thurston Training Center.

Kobayashi had expressed concern for months about the training center because overtime was used to build questionable structures.

“Some of it was un-permitted and some of it was not approved, things like this should not be happening,” she said.

Councilman-elect Calvin Say said he may ask for a legislative audit of the Honolulu Fire Department to expand the records review and see how widespread the problems are. "There were no safeguards in regard to how to monitor and hold the individuals to the overtime,” Say said.

Neves does not dispute the Budge and Fiscal Services report.

“There’s a lot of work that we need to do to tighten up the policies and procedures that we have," he said, adding that he assembled his staff to review and make changes to the policies.

He said the process will likely take a couple of months.

Another concerning find: A flagged expense on a government purchasing card.

State law prevents parceling or dividing purchases to avoid the pCard limit of $2,499.99. Anything more than that is subject to consultation with the Purchasing Division.

But on Feb. 19 at 12:14 p.m., an HFD pCard holder paid $2,450.00 for a fork lift rental. A minute later, another transaction went through for $796.07.

The two charges total $3,246.07 ― above the threshold of the limit.

Neves called it an isolated incident.

“I thought we were doing a really good job of making sure that everybody understood the rules of having a pCard and the responsibility that comes along with that,” he said.

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