BY JIM DOOLEY – Seven political appointees in Gov. Lingle Lingle’s administration who had moved to jobs in the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands were fired last week.

“I suspected it might be coming when I couldn’t get onto my computer,” one of the dismissed workers, Celyn Chong Kee, said.

Chong Kee, an active campaigner for failed Republican Party gubernatorial candidate James Duke Aiona, said she felt the firings were politically motivated, but was philosophical about her termination.

“We knew it might happen,” Chong Kee said.

Chong Kee moved to DHHL four years ago from her job as an Aiona liaison officer in the office of the lieutenant governor.

Other employees who were axed Thursday, including at least two people who had worked as Lingle staffers in the governor’s office, had moved more recently to DHHL.

Chong Kee said she worked a variety of tasks at DHHL and her last position was assistant to the department’s deputy director.

When Chong Kee couldn’t log onto her work computer after lunch on Thursday, she spoke with DHHL personnel director Wanda Zablan and was told that she had been terminated and had to leave the building, Chong Kee said.

Zablan declined comment.

Newly-appointed DHHL chairman ‘Alapaki Nahaleā issued a statement through department spokeswoman Crystal Kua.

The employees who were terminated had been hired “with the understanding that their jobs were temporary in nature,” Kua said.

“As an ‘at-will’ employee, they understood that they could be discharged from employment at the prerogative of the department head at any time,” said Kua.

Another of the terminated employees, Carla Morioka, said she and Chong Kee were given letters of termination by Zablan and were told to leave the premises.

“The letter said it was effective Jan. 31, but she (Zablan) said she had to walk us out of the building right away,” Morioka said.

“We couldn’t even pack our things. I had to go back on the weekend to get my stuff,” Morioka continued.

Morioka said she’s a retired federal employee who has worked for DHHL as a part-time personnel clerk since 2007.

Morioka is the aunt of former Lingle cabinet official Brennan Morioka and said she is convinced she was fired “because my last name is Morioka.”

She said she wasn’t surprised that she was fired but thought she would have more advance notice.

“I just don’t like the way they handled it,” Morioka said.

Two of the terminated workers were “clerk-typists” from Lingle’s office who moved to DHHL last month.

“They’re the ones I feel sorry for. I’m a retired federal employee so I have health insurance, but not them,” Morioka said.

When the Lingle administration took office in 2003 and Micah Kane became DHHL chairman, Morioka said, “he didn’t fire anyone.”

But the new bosses “made up a list” and targeted workers for “political reasons,” she said.

Kane, now the board chairman of Kamehameha Schools, declined comment today.

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Jim Dooley joined the Hawaii Reporter staff as an investigative reporter in October 2010. Before that, he has worked as a print and television reporter in Hawaii since 1973, beginning as a wire service reporter with United Press International. He joined Honolulu Advertiser in 1974, working as general assignment and City Hall reporter until 1978. In 1978, he moved to full-time investigative reporting in for The Advertiser; he joined KITV news in 1996 as investigative reporter. Jim returned to Advertiser 2001, working as investigative reporter and court reporter until 2010. Reach him at Jim@hawaiireporter.com