HILO, HAWAII – Three County Elections Office employees who say they were wrongfully terminated and publicly humiliated by county of Hawaii officials have made their Settlement Offer with the county public. (Nakamoto.settlement.demand.v.2)
Ted Hong, who represents Patricia Nakamoto, Glen Shikuma and Shayla Ayau, threatened to file a lawsuit against the County of Hawaii, its County Clerk, a private investigator hired by the County of Hawaii and yet to be named County officials, if the county does not agree on a settlement.
According to Hong, the workers were fired for two main reasons.
Glen Shikuma, who is a warehouse manager, stored sign making equipment in the warehouse. He was using the equipment to make signs at no charge to the county for their election operations, Hong said. Because it is a big warehouse, Shikuma also stored his recyclable cans and bottles before taking them to the recycling center.
After the county opened an investigation into Shikuma for storing private equipment in a county facility, they found three Kirin beer bottles in the refrigerator, which Shikuma said are not his and are three to four years old. The county has a no alcohol tolerance policy, however. Hong said his client has a clean employment record, had no prior discipline actions, and does not drink on the job, but received no warnings before being fired.
The second allegation is the workers allowed alcohol to be consumed at a “thank you” party for all election volunteers. The “potluck style” party is a regular tradition that has been going for decades, Hong said, and it takes place after hours, on their own time, in a private parking lot.
“They (the workers) don’t ask people to bring alcohol, but local style, people brought their ice chests and some of them brought beer,” Hong said. “The county clerk said this is a violation of the county alcohol free policy, but we have statements from county clerks who have worked here before saying they were aware of parties and knew there was alcohol there.”
Hong said he originally demanded a half a million settlement for Pat Nakamoto (elections program administrator), Glen Shikuma and Shayla Ayau and then reduced the demand.
Hong said his clients reduced the settlement offer to include reinstatement, backpay, a considerably smaller settlement, attorneys fees, an apology letter, among other conditions, because his clients don’t want to soak taxpayers.
“The former employees simply want their job back, they want to clear their name, and they are seeking a modest amount to pay for the humiliation they suffered after the slanted facts were leaked to the media,” Hong said.
But Hawaii County Council Members Dominic Yagong, Brenda Ford, Pete Hoffmann and Brittany Smart, voted against the reduced offer, and the recommendation by the corporation counsel that the county take the deal.
Hong said the council members are “letting their pride and political ambition drive their decision making.”
Council member Brittany Smart, who represents District 6, including Upper Puna, Ka’u, South Kona, said she appreciated the opportunity to comment, but said in an email to Hawaii Reporter: “Due to the discussions taking place in executive session regarding this matter, I have to submit a ‘no comment.'”
Council Member Pete Hoffmann, who represents District 9 including North and South Kohala (Waikoloa, Waimea, Hāwī, Hala‘ula), said: “Since the Council was in Executive Session, I can’t comment. We did discuss the issue extensively and the Council did not approve the recommendation of the Corporation Counsel.”
Hong said by not accepting this offer, and potentially going to trial, Council members Yagong, Ford, Hoffman and Smart are “gambling with the taxpayers’ money” and “their judgment is seriously in doubt by rejecting such a modest settlement agreement.”
“They are poor stewards of the taxpayers’ money and they should be held accountable for covering their mistakes with our tax dollars,” Hong said.
Hong was notified April 17 in a letter from the county corporation council that said: “As you are probably aware, today the County Council considered your settlement demand dated March 19, 2012. However, they have decided not to accept your offer, nor will the County being making a counteroffer at this time.”