It’s customary for public employees to help out when their bosses run for re-election. What better way to show loyalty and ensure job security, no?
The support can involve sign-waving, attending campaign events and — especially — donating money.
It’s quite common. Just last week, for example, Civil Beat reporter Nathan Eagle named several employees of Gov. David Ige who have contributed to his 2018 re-election effort.
Giving it up for the boss is nothing new. But what happens if a public employee declines to help their boss? Could it lead to retaliation against the worker?
That’s the question at the center of a lawsuit filed in 2nd Circuit Court late last month.
Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa has targeted the director of the county’s Department of Water Supply since October, according to a lawsuit.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
The lawsuit comes from David Taylor, director of Maui’s Department of Water Supply, and it levels a number of claims — including defamation, wrongful termination and violation of due process rights — against his boss, Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa.
Taylor, according to the lawsuit and his attorneys, does not know why Arakawa, who twice appointed Taylor to his job, wants him out. The mayor has seemed to change his rationale several times.
But the lawsuit provides a clue: It states that Taylor “was repeatedly contacted” on behalf of Arakawa and “requested to attend a campaign function in support” of the mayor’s candidacy for lieutenant governor.
The request is said to have come during the two weeks prior to the Oct. 9 event. The lawsuit explains that Taylor had a prior commitment and could not make it.
And that’s when things got weird.
The very next day, Arakawa is alleged to have called Taylor to his office and demanded his resignation. No explanation was given by the mayor, according to Taylor’s lawsuit.
Taylor refused to quit, however, which led to Arakawa moving to remove Taylor and place him on leave beginning in November. Again, there was no clear reason provided, and besides, the suit argues, only the Maui County Council (which had confirmed him twice for his director’s position) can remove Taylor.
Arakawa soon came up with a reason to dismiss Taylor, who is an engineer and a Maui County employee for 25 years: “He had not engaged in long term planning and various projects were too slow.”
On Dec. 12, The Maui News reported that Arakawa believed Taylor lacked management skills.
That same month, the matter went before the Maui County Council, which ultimately — and unanimously — rejected Arakawa’s desire to can Taylor. Council members found that Taylor was not accused of any wrongdoing and “noted a history of employment devoid of any allegations of mismanagement.”
Three days later, on Dec. 18, Arakawa placed Taylor on administrative leave, which continues to this day. A Jan. 12 letter from Arakawa to Bronster states that Taylor is under criminal investigation involving department operation “irregularities,” something that the lawsuit denies.
Taylor is represented by Bronster Fujichaku Robbins of Honolulu.
In addition to the allegations mentioned earlier, the lawsuit alleges that Maui County is in violation of its charter by allowing Deputy Director Gladys Baisa to fill in for Taylor.
That’s a no-no, the suit contends, because she’s not a registered engineer. And yet, the county is still using Taylor’s title and engineering license on official county documents “without Taylor’s approval or consent in violation of Hawaii law,” according to a Jan. 30 press release from the law firm.
In the press release, the law firm demands that Taylor be reinstated to serve for the remainder of Arakawa’s term, which ends Jan. 2.
Arakawa, who The Maui News reported in November was still considering an LG run but might also run for a council seat, did not return a call for comment Wednesday.
But his managing director, Keith Regan, sent over the same statement that was given to The Maui News:
It’s unfortunate that Mr. Taylor has taken this approach just as the county was in the process of completing its investigation. At this time, we are reviewing the complaint and will respond accordingly to the allegations.
Taylor is not talking, choosing to defer media inquiries to his attorneys. But the lawsuit claims that the actions against him are “outrageous, unreasonable, intentional” and have caused him “severe and substantial emotional distress.”
Attorney Margery Bronster said Taylor remains mystified by the stand the mayor took.
“The one thing that stuck out in his mind was that he did decline to attend the campaign function,” she said Wednesday, adding that Taylor has been forbidden from talking to anyone in his office. “But he has really never gotten a clear answer as to why the mayor wanted him out.”
It’s hard to guess how this story is going to work out. But Arakawa might want to return the $3,975 Taylor donated to his boss’s 2014 re-election run, as state Campaign Spending Commission records show.
The Taylor v. Arakawa case might also serve as a cautionary tale to the many other Maui County employees who have contributed generously to the mayor over the years.