BY JIM DOOLEY – The state last month awarded a $186,387 consulting contract to a company with close political ties to Gov. Neil Abercrombie after rejecting another company’s $96,000 bid because it was submitted 11 minutes late.
The contract – to help straighten out a tangled bureaucratic mess at the State Historic Preservation Division – was awarded to Solutions Pacific, a firm headed by Abercrombie political ally Raynard Soon.
Soon was a key player in the Abercrombie transition team formed after the new governor was elected in November. Soon’s daughter, Solutions Pacific chief executive Rebecca Soon, worked on Abercrombie’s election campaign and helped stage a series of inauguration events held before and after the new governor was sworn into office in December.
A subconsultant working for Solutions Pacific on the SHPD contract is Don Hibbard, a former head of SHPD who left the agency in late 2002 after the state Auditor’s office issued a harsh assessment of his work there.
Hibbard’s “cavalier management style has put the state at risk of losing federal grants,” Auditor Marion Higa said in the rep0rt 02-20.
The other company which tried to bid for the SHPD contract, Honua Consulting, was disqualified after it first delivered its paperwork to the SHPD office in Kapolei instead of to the Department of Land and Natural Resource’s Honolulu headquarters.
By the time the paperwork arrived at the DLNR office on May 10, it was 11 minutes past the posted deadline.
“I am disappointed that we were unable to consider your proposal for the (contract), but after consulting with the state Procurement Office, we were unable to find any means by which it could be reviewed and considered without violating our rules, which are in place to ensure a fair and transparent procurement process,” DLNR Deputy Director Guy Kaulukukui said in a letter to Honua Consulting president Trisha Kehaulani Watson.
Watson said she did not protest the state’s decision because her company technically missed the submission deadline.
“But I thought there was certainly an opportunity for the state to extend the deadline to allow for competing bids, knowing full well there was someone else interested and capable of doing the work,” Watson said.
“I bid $96,000 and I think that’s about half of what the state will end up paying,” Watson continued.
Watson acknowledged that her firm may not have won the job even if its proposal was accepted, because it was awarded not just on the basis of price, but on other factors including professional qualifications and experience.
“Whatever the outcome may have been, it would have been nice to have been considered,” she said.
She declined to discuss possible political overtones to the contract award.
“I know (DLNR Director) Bill Aila and (Deputy Director) Guy Kaulukukui and I have the utmost respect for them,” she said.
University of Hawaii Professor Jon Osorio, who was part of Honua Consulting’s team, said their bid was submitted “to at least make sure there wasn’t just one applicant for the job.”
But Osorio added that he feels the contract money might be better spent by hiring qualified personnel to staff the SHPD office.
“The office is underfunded and understaffed,” Osorio said.
“It does not need an outside consultant to tell it what it needs to do. This will not fix anything,” said Osorio.
Ray Soon is a former director of the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands and served nine years on the President’s Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.
Ray and Rebecca Soon did not respond to telephone and email requests for comment sent to them Thursday.
Ray Soon served as treasurer of New Day Hawaii, a non-profit formed by Abercrombie supporters the day after last year’s general election. New Day Hawaii — which was the theme of the Abercrombie campaign — was incorporated November 3 “to provide recruitment and transition planning service for the governor-elect and the Lieutenant governor-elect,” state business records show.
Soon donated $2,150 to the Abercrombie political campaign. Rebecca Soon gave $2,475 to the campaign as well as $2,750 to the Abercrombie inaugural fund, according to election and business records.
It’s not known if either Soon was involved in the recruitment or interviews of Aila or Kaulukukui before they were appointed to their positions in the state administration.
Questions on that subject and about the contract award were submitted to Aila and Kaulukukui Thursday afternoon.
Today Kaulukukui issued a brief response.
“Every aspect of this process is transparent. The Department is moving forward,” Kaulukukui said.
The U.S. National Park Service classified SHPD in March 2010 as a “high risk grantee” and threatened the agency with loss of more than $1 million in annual funding if it did not fix longstanding operational problems within two years.
”This action is not taken lightly and comes only after multiple attempts to help the SHPD correct serious deficiencies identified in audits going as far back as 2002,” Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis said in a letter to DLNR.
SHPD plays a central role in the identification and protection of historic sites and cultural resources in the Islands.
Jarvis warned in his letter that loss of federal funding and cancellation of SHPD’s status as a federally-approved agency “would negatively affect the economy of the state and have far-reaching effects.”
Consequences could include “serious delays” to construction projects as well as “irreparable harm to locally and nationally significant historic properties of importance to the people of Hawaii and the nation,” Jarvis wrote.
In announcing the award of the Solutions Pacific contract June 8, DLNR Director Aila said the state did not have the personnel or the time to fix SHPD’s problems before the Park Service deadline.
“We found that with limited staffing together with a multitude of tasks to complete that we wouldn’t be able to meet the timeline alone. The Department determined it is in the State’s best interest to contract a consultant to meet the NPS timeline,” said Aila.