Public housing agency seeks ethics waiver for finance job

Linda Smith, senior policy adviser to former Gov. Linda Lingle, has apparently moved into a new position as financial adviser to the Hawai‘i Public Housing Authority, on whose board of directors she served as the governor’s representative.

HPHA is maintaining silence on the matter, with several messages requesting information from executive director Denise Wise and Smith going unanswered. Sources who deal with the agency say Smith has been working there since last month.

HPHA advertised in the fall for a chief financial management adviser, setting a Nov. 4 deadline for applications and listing a salary of $80,000.

Les Kondo, executive director of the state Ethics Commission, confirmed that Smith subsequently asked for advice on whether it would violate the ethics code if she moved from the board of directors to a staff position. She was advised that state statute didn’t prohibit her from taking the position.

However, Kondo said the ethics office is taking another look at the matter after receiving a new request from HPHA last week for a formal waiver to satisfy the federal government, which appears to be paying part of the salary. Kondo said the waiver request had new information about the timing of the move from one position to the other.

At their December 16 meeting, HPHA directors went into executive session to discuss a motion “to approve a waiver from the conflict of interest provisions of Sections 19(A) of the annual contributions contract between the Hawaii Public Housing Authority and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for the Chief Financial Management Advisor position.”

Directors said the closed meeting was necessary to consult with attorneys on the board’s “powers, duties, privileges, immunities and liabilities” relating to the waiver. After the executive session, the board unanimously approved the waiver without discussion.

The HPHA board is chaired by retired Boeing executive Travis Thompson, one of Lingle’s closest allies as her finance director on Maui, her transition chief when she was elected governor and a major donor to local and national Republican campaigns.

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30 Comments on “Public housing agency seeks ethics waiver for finance job”

  1. Kuniakine Says:

    I think if you check, you’ll find she doesn’t work there any more.

  2. Kolea Says:

    I am trying to resist my initial knee jerk response to this. On the surface, it smells. But if we are going to go deeper and try to evaluate this fairly, I think we need a better sense of what Ms. Smith might bring to HPHA. I disagree with those who think the mere appearance of favoritism or other impropriety is the proper standard. What is the substance behind the surface?

    I have sat in hearings where Linda Smith has delivered testimony on behalf of the Lingle administration. Is it fair to assume her testimony reflected her thinking? I dunno. I was put off by her lack of interpersonal skills in that setting. She was generally uptight, defensive and had difficulty responding to questions in a way which suggested (to me) an inability to engage with the ideas of others.

    But then, she WAS there on behalf of her boss.

    Is HPHA getting a good deal by being able to “snag” Ms. Smith as soon as she “came onto the market”? Or was this simply a case where an outgoing administration pulls strings to secure a high-paying job for one of their chief operatives? Or a little bit of both?

    Her title under Lingle was as a Policy Analyst. Here, she would be employed as chief financial adviser. Is she highly qualified or under-qualified for that position at that salary point? Was an open search conducted to find the best qualified applicant?

    State agencies and boards are able to go into “executive session” at the drop of a hat, particularly in discussing “personnel” matters. Another useful broad excuse is to “consult with the attorney.” To get a sense of what these public bodies are doing, and WHY, often requires activities darn close to “industrial espionage.”

    But I hate to form conclusions based merely upon the “appearance” of impropriety. Even when it is Republicans who appear to be misbehaving.

  3. David Shapiro Says:

    Kuniakine, that would be interesting if something has changed. When I called HPHA again for her this morning, they said she wasn’t available “at the moment” and took a message for her. I’m not making any judgment on the propriety, just thought it was worth noting.

  4. charley taylor Says:

    This has nothing to do with the last administration pulling strings to get Smith a job or about Smith’s ability as a financial advisor. The “substance behind the surface” is board gave Smith the job to finish the Kuhio Park Terrace development deal from the inside. In exchange for buying the two rundown towers at Kuhio Park Terrace and making repairs a mainland developer will receive land lease rights to develop market rate properties on other parcel of land at KPT. Just another bit of business the board has been “using” executive session “at the drop of a hat”. Who’s benefiting from this deal will also require near “industrial espionage” to get to the bottom of. But at some point the Denise Wise will have to comment.

  5. Kolea Says:

    Kuniakine & charley Taylor,

    thanks for the follow up info.

    This deal with a mainland developer sounds somewhat similar to deals made regarding UH. Student housing and military housing. Lingle’s people awarded the UH. contract, while it was Inouye and Abercrombie who helped set up the military housing deal, though they probably had little say in picking the developer.

    Both the UH & military contracts went to mainland companies headed by high-level Bush cronies.

    Any idea on the name of the developer in the KPT deal?

  6. David Shapiro Says:

    I don’t know if Charley is correct, but Jim Dooley had an interesting recent story about what’s going on at KPT.

  7. charley taylor Says:

    David Shapiro-the link you posted is the deal I’m reference with Michaels Development. Notice there is little mention of the other part of the deal. Only that there will be “additional new housing” which sort of implies public housing. Not the case, this IS a land grab! The additional development will be for market rate property. That’s Michael’s main interest. The question is who’s making out locally? Michaels has to be partnered up with someone locally to drive this. And seeing that Hawaii Reporter article reminded me of previous Hawaii Reporter article (I think also by Dooley) quoting Thompson that HPHA is lending Michaels $1.5M to cover design drawings and project finance application costs. At the risk of taking this all over the place… on the one hand you have HPHA’s Nicolas Birck quoted in yesterday’s paper stating there is no money to fix the hot water at Mayor Wright but they have money to lend a private developer on this KPT deal? Dave maybe Birck will take your call? He seems to be their mouthpiece right now.

  8. Michael Says:

    Mud and Overpaid.
    One who majors in Business would do
    well come next election.
    Who wants to be a Politician,
    when one makes more as a CEO?

  9. shaftalley Says:

    can we really expect these gov’t. agencies to be honest to the american people?can we really trust a gov’t. that abuses their own citizens?

  10. WooWoo Says:

    If I’m not mistaken, I believe that Linda Smith was city finance director under Fasi. I believe she is qualified for the position.

  11. WooWoo Says:

    http://the.honoluluadvertiser.com/article/2003/Dec/22/ln/ln13a.html

    “Smith, a former treasurer for the Hawai’i Republican Party, also spent 16 years in public service. She was city finance director under then-Honolulu Mayor Frank Fasi for two years, during which she made headlines for her role in the investigation of the Honolulu Liquor Commission.

    Smith requested an audit of the commission and later hired a private detective firm to investigate further. That resulted in the firing of five liquor investigators and the disciplining of five others.

    “Linda Smith was a tremendous aid to me,” Fasi said. “She had all of the qualifications, knowledge, background. She knows government, state and county, from A to Z. She should be a very, very big asset for the governor.”

    Smith, who was born and raised in California’s San Fernando Valley, also served as the director of administration for the presidential Office of Management and Budget under Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan and worked for two Democratic congressmen before moving to Hawai’i.”

  12. charley taylor Says:

    WooWoo the press release approach IS from the Fasi days…when he ran the Kukui Plaza real estate scam. Was Smith city finance director then? History repeats. But keep the faith shaftalley. There was little the average person could do when Fasi ran his corruption scemes. But tranparency is here to stay thanks to blogs like this and social media. This latest corruption has seen the light of day and the truth will come out.

  13. Craig Smith Says:

    Get rid of everything that has anything to with Lingle and that includes Linda Smith!

  14. hipoli Says:

    The woman has a couple of decades of government experience, including 8 as a Governor’s senior policy advisor.

    I couldnt stand Linda Smith anymore than the next schmuck who she screwed over, but who are we to wish unemployment on anyone? If some agency has the money to pay her salary, then its up to that agency head to hire this woman or not.

    Not us.

  15. WooWoo Says:

    As Hipoli illustrates, you can disagree with her on political issues, and even dislike her on a personal level, but it is not reasonable to argue that she is unqualified. It also seems, just going by Dave’s post, she made a reasonable effort to be above-board by getting an ethics opinion first.

  16. David Shapiro Says:

    WooWoo, I didn’t question her qualifications. From reading their job posting, she seemed to be a reasonable candidate. I didn’t ask for info out of political disagreement or personal dislike and I’m curious why they’ve clammed up to the extent they have and are leaning heavy on people to keep quiet. Did they really think the hire would escape notice and they’d never have to explain it?

  17. Kolea Says:

    WooWoo,

    Thanks for the info on Smith’s qualifications. I think you answered that line of questioning. But Charley Taylor’s remarks about the KPT development deal raises questions, at least in my mind, over the propriety of that deal and what role Smith might be playing.

    Dave has been a pretty consistent advocate for transparency in government operations. When questions are raised about the “appearance of impropriety.” transparency is the best response.The KPT deal MAY be legitimate. Ms. Smith MAY be doing a good job getting the HPHA’s house in order. Or their may be some shenanigans, an impression which is strengthened when everybody clams up.

    Hawaii’s exemplary Sunshine Law has proved to be a weak tool in the face of almost universal resistance from agencies as soon as even the appearance of anything controversial arises. The excuse is that attorneys are consulted in order to either ensure nothing illegal is being done, or to protect them in the event a matter MAY end up in court.

    So it is exactly when attention turns to an agency that officials are able to use the exemptions in the Sunshine Law to “clam up.”

    This is what leads to a much-feared Donna Kim investigation. She seems to be the only one with the authority to ferret out the truth.

  18. WooWoo Says:

    Kolea-

    I’m all for transparency. Let’s hope that the clamming stops. I’m not familiar with the details of the KPT deal.

  19. charley taylor Says:

    Dave they don’t want to explain the hire because the next logical question is what is Smith doing and all roads lead to the Kuhio Park Terrace deal. The next opportunity to get to the truth is the Feb. 14th Senate Human Services committee hearing when Denise Wise goes back to explain to the committee the Kuhio Park Terrace deal in greater detail. What are the chances she’ll bring Linda Smith along…none. Why not bring the Chief Financial Management Advisor along given that many of the last hearing’s questions were about the deal’s financing according to the Jim Dooley article you posted? Surely the financial advisor is more fluent in the specific details the committee is asking about…not going to happen. Smith and Thompson are seasoned political operatives. They want to get thru this hearing on the 14th and push on with the deal. In a couple of years when new high rise condos are being built at Kuhio Park Terrace the community will be wondering how the heck did this happen? And Linda Smith will be long gone. Dollars to donuts she quits this job in a short but reasonable time after this deal gets done. Travis Thompson will be off the board and back on Maui. And Denise Wise will be back on the mainland working for…

  20. Michael Says:

    Transparency in Hawaii? There is a doubt of an asking.
    We trusted who we voted for and their decisions. Since Hawaii is not owned by America but by Foreign countries who have money, there will never be a Government made of Glass. America is afraid of Wiki leaks. Transparency is like looking thru Rose colored glasses.

  21. WooWoo Says:

    Maybe I’m missing something, but if the HPHA board made the decision to go with the Michaels development deal, is there anything improper about Smith moving from the board to a staff position to see the deal through?

    I have re-read all of the posts on this thread and the Dooley article, and I am not sure where the implied (by Charley at least) impropriety is. In fact, what surprises me is Michaels development thinking that it is going to make a reasonable risk-adjusted return off of developing market rate apartments right next to KPT. For sure these are mainland guys. I grew up in the neighborhood, and I’m sure my childhood buddies that lived in KPT proper would get a good chuckle out or this.

  22. shaftalley Says:

    wasteannd corruption.lies and deception.this is all that we get from hawaii public housing authority.and the political class of democrats and country club republicans are keeping the low-income people DOWN.

  23. taylorcharle02 Says:

    WooWoo – I think the public should have the opportunity to decide on the Smith move from board to staff. Typically a high profile hire like this is announced. This was done in exec. session, why? Now they won’t answer Dave’s inquiry on the hire, why? If it’s a good hire for the State say so short and sweet. They won’t confirm the hire because then this story will get picked up by the TV media. The Michaels deal is being misrepresented as redevelopment of the the towers. The fact that Micheals will be developing other parcels needs to be sunshined and vetted. There’s just too much secrecy and misrepresentation surrounding a deal that will have a significant impact on the community. And with this I bid you all a fond aloha!

  24. Michael Says:

    I assume, lingle gets her Leaf free.
    Will Smith? Is her color choice clear?
    One should ask may how she got in.

  25. David Shapiro Says:

    The S-A has a major new development: http://blogs.starbulletin.com/inpolitics/ward-center/

  26. WooWoo Says:

    A point for kuniakine. And for Dave for breaking the story.

  27. Hawaiino Says:

    All hail Kuniakine!!!
    First post nailed it. Good discussion followed, but kk had the inside/early scoops. Dave’s frustrating attempts to catch up with events are to be admired and appreciated, but nothing beats an insider. Here’s to more leaks, wikiwiki.

  28. kainalu Says:

    First i would like to say I am no fan of Lingle but for all who doubt the hiring of Linda Smith, it was the best thing the HPHA could have done. She had the experience and knowledge the agency needed. The HPHA has been trying to hire a Chief Financial Officer for almost two years, but to no avail. It has been offed to applicants but the pay is not worth it, so I heard.

    Also, as for the KPT deal with the mainland company if you all would look into the records a tenant of KPT and others outside the State sat on the selction committee and it did go through the states RFP process.

    Please get you facts straight before commented that back dooor deals are being made.

  29. Michael Says:

    No back “dooor” deals but some back door sales.

    The pay is worth a job. Those who cannot accept it don’t deserve the pay. I would work for present amount paid and only if I do well, then I would accept a bonus. I have worked and earned my pay.
    I would have pride to have a job. Unlike Americans who make millions as CEOs, some Japanese CEOs make less than those they manage. Yet the pride is there and they do get bonuses at end of year. They would also commit Hara Kiri if they failed in their job. Americans resign with a big million plus severance pay. Americans want assisted deaths. Japanese, the second person wields the sword when the pain is too intense.

  30. charley taylor Says:

    Kainalu, it has not been suggested that the KPT deal was back door or did not go thru the RFP process. But now that the RFP has been brought into the discussion, do you know who wrote the RFP? It was written by a member of the selection committee. As for those who sat on the selection committee do you know how those people were selected? Same person who wrote the RFP drove the selection committee. This didn’t have to go thru any back door. It’s went straight thru the front door. Real corrupted power does things this way…straight thru the front door. But I stand behind my earlier post – There’s serious misrepresentation surrounding this deal that will have a significant impact on the broader community. Thankfully there are a lot of more eyes looking now. Transparency is here to stay. And this is almost over. The same corrupt dinosaurs who ran the financial advisor hiring process and the KPT RFP have seen their day. The KPT deal is all but dead now and the dinosaurs are not far behind. It’s all about transparency and HPHA will be getting on board with transparency soon.
    As for the Financial Advisor job. There are local people who are qualified for that job but no one would take it under the current corrupt regime. When all dinosaurs are gone that job will be filled quickly…and soon.


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