EXCLUSIVE: 11 fired as 4 Abercrombie appointees hired in IT

EXCLUSIVE: 11 fired as 4 Abercrombie appointees hired in IT
Published: Nov. 26, 2014 at 10:40 PM HST|Updated: Nov. 26, 2014 at 11:53 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - When 11 employees in the state information technology office were fired in the same month that four political appointees of outgoing Gov. Neil Abercrombie were hired there, state senators questioned whether the actions had more to do with politics rather than good policy.

Abercrombie, who lost the primary election in August, leaves office on Monday and many of his political appointees will lose their job unless incoming Gov. David Ige retains them.

The state Office of Information Management and Technology has about 40 employees, many of whom work in the Keoni Ana building on Alakea Street downtown.

In the middle of October, the state's Chief Information Officer Keone Kali met with 11 of his employees -- representing a quarter of the staff -- and fired them, giving them a couple of hours to clean out their belongings and leave.

"Bringing them into a room, telling them it's going to be a meeting, and then firing them without any notice. You don't do things like that," said State Senate President Donna Kim, who has heard complaints from state employees about the firings and hirings in the IT office. Employees have also complained to State Sen. Suzanne Chun-Oakland.

Through a spokesman, Kali declined an on-camera interview Wednesday but said his department had to lay off the at-will employees -- none of whom worked there longer than a year and a half -- because it's transitioning from planning to carrying out new high tech initiatives.

"Our office must re-purpose positions to meet specific skill sets and functions as we head into the implementation phase of our state's IT transformation plan," Kali said.

The same month those staffers were fired, the IT office hired four of Abercrombie's political appointees, including one of the governor's receptionists, his deputy communications director and deputy human resources director.

Kali denied the other staffers, six of whom were project managers, were fired to make way for political appointees.

"If you're firing 11 people who've been on the job, why couldn't some of them be re-programmed here, if in fact you had to do away with those positions?" Kim asked.

Kali said that wasn't possible because "The 11 terminated individuals were performing tasks much different from those in the vacant positions. Further, their backgrounds and experience would not have qualified them for the vacant positions."

Asked if she thought the Abercrombie appointees were qualified for their new jobs, Kim said, "I think in some cases it's a stretch, if you look at their resumes."

Kim also lamented the institutional knowledge that the state lost when it quickly fired IT staff.

"You lose the historical information. You lose what you've already done in training to get these other people up to speed," Kim said.

Sources said a handful of Abercrombie's other political employees were in discussions about applying for openings at the IT office this fall, but when state senators began asking questions about the political timing of the firings and hirings, they decided to pursue jobs elsewhere.

Furthermore, the sources said officials in the governor's office were surprised and upset to learn of the layoffs, which they had not been warned about.

None of the employees in the state's IT office has a permanent, civil service job. That means the people who were recently hired could be ousted after Ige takes office on Monday.

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