State Hospital favoritism complaints prompt anti-nepotism bill

State Hospital favoritism complaints prompt anti-nepotism bill
Published: Mar. 4, 2014 at 11:46 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Following allegations of rampant nepotism at the Hawaii State Hospital in Kaneohe, State Senate Judiciary Chairman Clayton Hee has introduced a proposal to crack down on state employees hiring their relatives.

Some State Hospital employees, including managers and supervisors, have two, three even four relatives on the payroll there.  Employees who've complained of mismanagement and violent assaults on staff by violent mentally ill patients said favoritism and nepotism add to the dysfunction at the troubled facility.

"We treat all of our employees equally," said Hawaii State Hospital Nursing Director Leona Guest , who told Hawaii News Now in December she has a son and daughter who have worked at the hospital for years.

"There are multiple layers of supervisors between me and anybody that is related to myself or anybody else," Guest said in a December interview.

Hee said he introduced the bill because of nepotism complaints at the hospital.

"If it's happening at the Hawaii State Hospital, the odds are that it's happening in other pockets of government, both state and probably the city as well," Hee said.

State law currently bars state employees from taking official action involving only their spouses or dependent children, but Hee's proposal goes much further.

The measure, if passed by lawmakers this legislative session, would make it illegal to advocate for, employ, promote or supervise 27 types of relatives, including siblings, cousins, grandchildren, in-laws, step relatives and even reciprocal beneficiaries.

Nepotism should be barred, Hee said, because "It suggests that there's favoritism and special privileges with hiring practices by state government."

Les Kondo, executive director of the State Ethics Commission, said his office receives numerous nepotism complaints from public and charter schools and other state departments.

"They point back to the other relationship and the other employee is saying, 'Oh look, she got that promotion, she got the time off, she got that special treatment because it's the sister, because it's the cousin, or because it's the aunty,'" Kondo said.

One ethics case at Myron B. Thompson Academy, a charter school located at the Richards Street YWCA in downtown Honolulu, has turned into a criminal probe.

The school's principal is under investigation for hiring her sister as an administrator who also works full-time as a flight attendant and hiring her nephew as athletic director even though the school had no sports teams. Investigators from the state Attorney General's office seized boxes of documents as well as computers from the school in December of last year.

At the State Hospital, employees have complained to Hawaii News Now and a joint Senate committee investigating problems there that the hiring process at the troubled facility is "unfair."

Candidates go through an application process, but one employee familiar with procedures who asked to remain anonymous said "once it's time for interviews, the interview panels are hand picked and encouraged to fudge the points to make the person 'they' want hired, get the required score."

Guest, the head of nursing, told Hawaii News Now in December: "We have quite a few individuals that work in the hospital that have relatives that work here.  It's a small state.  It's a very specific job description.  You have to either love it or not love it."

The state hospital's medical director, Dr. Bill Sheehan, said his college-aged son spent three months working there as a temp.

"It brings up whether something is inappropriate or gives the appearance of impropriety.  And we'd like to make that explicit and transparent.  Like as you've asked questions, we'll answer them," he said last December.

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