BY JIM DOOLEY – When the last Democratic administration quit the halls of state government in 2002, several members of Gov. Ben Cayetano’s departing cabinet deftly found shelter in civil service positions, much to the annoyance of Gov. Linda Lingle.
Now one of them, Glenn Okimoto, has emerged from obscurity at the University of Hawaii to take his place again at the head table of state government.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie last month nominated Okimoto, 57, to serve as director of the state Department of Transportation. Unlike many of the fresh faces named by Abercrombie to serve in his “New Day” cabinet, Okimoto is a consummate bureaucrat and government insider whose career has taken him from the state Comptroller’s job to different positions in the Transportation Department and most recently to the University of Hawaii.
If approved by the state Senate, Okimoto would be re-united at the Transportation Department with another Cayetano-era cohort, former chief labor negotiator Davis K. Yogi, who helped organize the migration of Cayetano political appointees to civil service jobs and who now holds the same sort of position himself at the harbors division of DOT.
When Lingle took office in late 2002, she found that nearly two dozen Cayetano political appointees had moved in the preceding six months into civil service positions that afforded them job protection from the new boss.
Ten of the transfers, including several executive secretaries of Cayetano department heads, were made possible under an executive order written for Cayetano by Yogi, then the head of the Department of Human Services best known for negotiating labor contracts with public worker unions.
Lingle ordered an investigation of the transferees, among them a group that included Okimoto and Yogi who were hired at higher-than-normal starting pay for their civil service jobs.
The investigation was later closed without action against the targeted workers.
Okimoto, who had previously served as director of the state Department of Accounting and General Services and as deputy director of DOT, moved into a civil service slot as administrator of the harbors division.
Yogi’s transfer to state airports administrator caused the most stir because he had no experience in aviation-related work.
Job descriptions for the position had previously required applicants to have at least three years of experience in managing airports but Cayetano eliminated that language in 1997 when one of his campaigners who had no experience in the aviation field was hired for the job.
Okimoto served on the civil service panel that reviewed applicants for the airports job that went to Yogi.
All initial applicants were rejected and another new job description was written that stressed the importance of business and administrative experience.
“We were given instructions by (then-DOT director) Brian Minaai that we needed a person with a business background,” Okimoto said at the time.
That was a good fit for Yogi, who had worked for six years as a business executive before joining the Cayetano administration.
Cayetano defended the employment decision, saying Yogi “competed for the job and was rated first.”
Okimoto then landed the civil service job of harbors administrator.
He said then that he was hired “through all the proper procedures” and had 22 years of service with the DOT, including six months as acting administrator of the harbors division.
Okimoto later abandoned civil service and moved to an appointed position at the University of Hawaii where he has served as budget director of the UH system.
He said he ‘feels good” about rejoining the DOT as director and member of the Abercrombie cabinet.
Okimoto’s departure from the harbors job in 2007 created an opening that was then filled by Davis Yogi.
Yogi still holds the post today.