Gov. Neil Abercrombie‘s administration has said that the director of the state’s open records agency was not fired, but rather her appointment had come to an end.

Reached by phone Wednesday, former Office of Information Practices Director Cathy Takase disagreed.

“I was terminated,” she said.

“When the new administration had come in, I had volunteered to stay and continue to serve until a permanent director was appointed. My understanding was that I would go back to my staff attorney position.”

Takase’s dismissal is not the only time the governor has tried to micromanage the agency charged with enforcing the state’s public records and sunshine laws. A week earlier the governor stepped over the line by personally appointing a staff attorney to the office. He has the authority to appoint the director, but not staff.

The flurry of personnel activity at the agency came after Takase stood up to the governor and made public a letter stating that it would be illegal for him to continue withholding the list of judicial nominees to fill a Supreme Court vacancy. Abercrombie’s office says her termination and OIP’s assessment of his actions aren’t related. It has not released the list, and insists it won’t.

Abercrombie spokeswoman Donalyn Dela Cruz said she was surprised to hear Takase used the word “terminated.”

“She’s saying that? She’s still looking for work. I know she found a position she wanted” within state government, Dela Cruz said. “I know she applied.”

“The governor’s office per se has a transition team that works on all these appointments,” she added. “I believe they may have acted in good faith but probably too quickly with regard to the OIP position.”

Dela Cruz directed further questions to the transition team. Attempts to reach transition chief Bill Kaneko1 were unsuccessful.

Dela Cruz did acknowledge that Abercrombie “made a mistake” when he appointed a staff attorney.

In a letter dated Feb. 25, 2011, obtained by Civil Beat, Abercrombie appointed Linden H. Joesting as a staff attorney at the Office of Information Practices, effective March 1, 2011. (Her hiring was first reported by Ian Lind.) Joesting had left OIP last fall to become a staffer in Sen. Clayton Hee’s office.

“You have a vital role to perform which will place many demands on your time and energy,” he wrote.

Under state law, the governor appoints OIP’s director, but the director hires the office’s attorneys.

Dela Cruz, in a written statement, explained:

“The Governor is tasked with filling hundreds of appointed positions. Many of the departments and agencies where appointments must be made have unique rules regarding personnel matters. OIP is one such example. The Governor may appoint the Executive Director of OIP but all other personnel matters at OIP are the responsibility of the Executive Director, not the Governor.

Two weeks ago, a letter was sent from the Governor to Linden Joesting informing her that she was appointed to a staff attorney position in OIP. After the fact, we learned that the Governor did not have the authority to make that appointment. In other words, we discovered that we had made a mistake. Subsequently, acting-director Cathy Takase appointed Ms. Joesting to the staff attorney position.”

Abercrombie’s letter states that Joesting’s appointment lasts through June 30, 2011, the end of the fiscal year. Staff attorneys in the office said it’s common for exempt employees to be automatically renewed in July, the beginning of the fiscal year.

Takase said she did apply to be OIP’s director but was turned down.

Takase said that the she had been sent a letter in the mail informing her of her termination. But she didn’t receive the notice until after she was told verbally on March 3 that the next day, March 4, would be her last. The administration has since retained her for another two weeks, with her last day now being March 18.

Her original staff attorney position remains open.

Civil Beat asked the governor to release the names of Supreme Court nominees after Sabrina McKenna was confirmed. We have appealed his denial to OIP.

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