BREAKING: Committee Recommends Taguchi for Maui Auditor

June 12, 2013, 11:25 AM HST · Updated June 12, 12:37 PM
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Kalana o Maui (Maui County Building) building. Photo by Wendy Osher.

Kalana o Maui (Maui County Building) building. File photo by Wendy Osher.

By Wendy Osher

The Maui Council’s Budget and Finance Committee unanimously recommended Lance Taguchi as their selection to the newly created county auditor position.

The recommendation for appointment to the six-year term now advances to the full council for further consideration.

Taguchi currently serves as deputy in the county clerk’s office under Clerk Jeffrey Kuwada.

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Committee members say he was one of 17 applicants who sought appointment to the post, and among six that went on to the interview phase of the selection process conducted by the committee’s Temporary Investigative Group.

One of those six individuals reportedly pulled out of contention before the interviews began after being offered another position, said Budget Committee Chair Mike White.

White congratulated Taguchi on the recommendation saying, “I’m very comfortable with the selection.”

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Fellow Councilmember Gladys Baisa offered similar comment calling Taguchi both “efficient” and “responsive.”

In testimony today, Baisa said, “The more I dug, the more I was impressed. He has an extremely impressive resume. He certainly meets (and exceeds) all of the requirements that were set.”

Councilmember Don Guzman also offered words of support for Taguchi saying, “His background and resume speaks for itself–a CPA; experience in the government, outside sector, private sector; various audits he’s conducted throughout the private sector, as well as serving in the judiciary as an appointed auditor as well. I have a lot of respect for that.”

In explaining why he applied to the post, Taguchi said, “I hesitated to apply, to be honest with you, primarily because it is quite a daunting task, and I have young children; but, someone once told me, you have to do something to help the next generation.”

Taguchi continued his testimony saying, “If I can try and help people–the public, council members, and the administration–better understand what’s occurring within the departments, then I think everything will be a whole lot better. It will help the public to have some confidence in how their tax dollars are being spent.”

“I think that’s something that would really help this county–to have an independent, third-party take a look at it. From my experience, and my background, I could provide a good start for the office to try and achieve that,” said Taguchi.

In regards to leaving the office of the county clerk, Taguchi said, “I’m sure with the capable staff there, and the county clerk himself, they’re more than able to find a replacement for me. I completed most of my tasks–there’s still some things to be done–but I’m sure with the people that currently hold the positions, that they should do fine without me.”

Baisa, in response, called Taguchi “a little modest,” saying, “there’s always a little bit of interruption of services when we have transitions; but I think that the bigger responsibility here, of course, is to get the county auditor’s office up and running,” she said, thanking Taguchi for taking the initiative to apply.

When asked how he would go about balancing competing interests, Taguchi said, “A lot of the audits that occur will include differences of opinion between the administration and the council, and at times even the public. The auditor’s office will be performing audits under professional standards–in other words, there is an audit program; there’s yellow-book standards.”

“One of the foremost things when we take on an audit, is first to do an evaluation of the auditor’s independence,” which Taguchi called “critical.”

“You also have to be independent in appearance–and I understand having worked for the council, that might become problematic; but there’s various safeguards that can be taken to assure independence,” he said, including peer review, third-party perspectives, contracting out services, and assignment of other individuals in cases where a conflict exists.

Taguchi said his primary short-term goal is to “get the office up and running and hire quality employees.”

“I think one of the first concerns would be making sure that we procure the third-party audit. Moving forward from there, I believe that the auditor’s office must rely a lot on training, so that professionalism of staff and the auditor is at a high level.”

He said hopefully, through the performance of the office, he would be able to eventually request from council the ability to expand the office so that more audits could be conducted for greater efficiency.

“I find it great that the committee brought up the same things that we grilled every other applicant about,” said Councilmember Riki Hokama, who chaired the Budget and Finance Committee’s Temporary Investigative Group and was tasked with making the initial selection.

He continued, “knowing the community, the level of understanding of this government, how soon certain practices can be put into place to get the benefits of an office of the auditor, the ability to hire new personnel for the office, as well as the ability to utilize established relationships and communication to get the appropriate information between employees, managers, department heads, council members or staff. I find that to be a key component, because, if you can’t get information, how good is your audit?” said Hokama.

Committee Chair White also expressed excitement that former state auditor Marion Higa, who recently retired from the post, was able to spend several hours with the TIG to provide information on what to look for, and how to go about setting up an office, and getting running as quickly as possible.

The Maui county auditor post was created following the passage of a charter amendment during the 2012 general election.

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