Everything old is new again, at least when it comes to rules governing county hiring practices.
The county Human Resources Department scheduled a public hearing for 1 p.m. Friday on changes to its hiring code giving the HR Department more centralized control over creating ranked lists of eligible candidates to be referred to the hiring departments. The meeting will be in County Council chambers in Hilo, with testimony also taken from the council office at the West Hawaii Civic Center via videoconference.
The new procedures will go back to the “Rule of 5,” where the top five applicants (or more if there are ties in any of those rankings) are forwarded to the hiring department for interviews and selection, said HR Director Bill Brilhante. The HR Department will conduct the rankings through a procedure based on “E&E,” or education and experience.
Positions that span departments, such as clerical positions, will be ranked by the same group of evaluators based on the same set of standards, allowing for more objectivity and a uniform process.
“We don’t want to create any artificial barriers,” Brilhante said. “We want to give all the applicants a fair and equal opportunity to go before the department.”
The proposed changes will take the county procedures back to where they were before 2014, when new rules were implemented allowing county departments, or a committee directed by the mayor’s office, to select candidates based on their own individual ranking systems.
That procedure resulted in a scathing audit from county Legislative Auditor Bonnie Nims, who in 2017 warned that county practices contributed to public complaints of unfairness and favoritism and could have violated the law.
The audit found cases in some departments where applicants were offered positions before interviews were conducted, where no references were checked, where the number of interviews were the same as vacancies even though there was a large referred list, where a random number generator instead of a skills test was used to winnow applicants, where applications with mainland addresses were discarded and other questionable practices.
“The county’s hiring practices did not ensure equitable, uniform and transparent selection of candidates which may have resulted in non-compliance with applicable laws, rules, regulations and county policies and procedures,” the audit stated.
West Hawaii Today, in an investigation, expanded on the audit’s findings by revealing the use of sticky notes and the acronym “POI” to designate a “person of interest,” who was selected even before recruitment was conducted for positions.
A follow-up audit is on Nims’ 2019-20 schedule, but a spokesman said Friday it has not yet begun.
Brilhante, who pointed to the 49-page audit on his bookshelf as his “bible,” said his department has almost finished the list of recommendations in it. Setting up a whistle-blower hotline, the final unfinished recommendation, is proving difficult because county departments were instructed to cut back their budgets in the upcoming year.
Brilhante took over the top HR position when the former director resigned in the wake of the audit.
Acknowledging that a job in county government is a coveted position for most Big Island residents and their children, Brilhante said it’s more important than ever to ensure candidates are offered a fair shot at a job.
Still, he said, not everyone is going to be pleased with the hiring process.
“One guy walks away happy,” he said. “Everyone else, not so much.”
Public testimony also can be submitted before noon the day of the hearing by mail to the Department of Human Resources at 101 Pauahi St., Suite 2, Hilo, Hawaii 96720; by fax to 961-8617; or by email to Waylen.Leopoldino@hawaiicounty.gov.
The proposed rule changes can be viewed by visiting https://www.hawaiicounty.gov/departments/human-resources and clicking “Rules of the Department of Human Resources” in the right-hand column.
Email Nancy Cook Lauer at firstname.lastname@example.org.