A series of sudden personnel changes in Hawaii’s Office of Information Management and Technology is raising questions among state lawmakers.
State Chief Information Officer Keone Kali fired 11 employees in October – about a quarter of the state technology office’s workforce – and then hired four political appointees. The appointees were set to lose their jobs Monday following a change in the gubernatorial administration.
The firings gained attention after Hawaii News Now broke the story last week prompting questions from state lawmakers who want to know what exactly is going on in Hawaii’s Office of Information Management and Technology.
State Senate President Donna Kim, who heard complaints from state employees about the firings and hirings in the IT office, alleged the former IT employers were given little notice. “Bringing them into a room, telling them it’s going to be a meeting, and then firing them without any notice. You don’t do things like that,” she told the news site.
The four political appointees worked in the state government under outgoing Gov. Neil Abercrombie, who lost in his party’s primary election in his bid to retain his seat. The leadership of the government is set to turn over Dec. 1, meaning Abercrombie’s political appointees would be out of work unless Gov.-elect David Ige choses to retain them.
The political appointees hired by Kali include one of Abercrombie’s receptionists, his deputy communications director and deputy human resources director.
According to Hawaii News Now, Kali said his department had to lay off the at-will employees — none of whom worked there longer than a year and a half — because it’s transitioning from planning to carrying out new high-tech initiatives. The firings had nothing to do with creating space to bring in political appointees.
“Our office must re-purpose positions to meet specific skill sets and functions as we head into the implementation phase of our state’s IT transformation plan,” Kali told the site.
Kali said that those fired were performing tasks that were not what the state needed at this time, and their backgrounds and experience would not have qualified them for vacant positions.
Kim asked, though, if those hired from Abercrombie’s staff were qualified. Kim said, “I think in some cases it’s a stretch, if you look at their resumes.”
Hawaii News Now quoted anonymous sources that said a handful of Abercrombie’s other political employees were in discussions about applying for openings at the IT office this fall, but when state senators began asking questions about the political timing of the firings and hirings, they decided to pursue jobs elsewhere.
Furthermore, the sources said officials in the governor’s office were surprised and upset to learn of the layoffs, which they had not been warned about.
None of the employees in the state’s IT office have permanent civil service jobs. That means the people who were recently hired could be ousted after Ige takes office today.