An inspector in Honolulu’s permitting department has been running an electrical company on the side for over a decade and has inspected and approved more than a dozen of his own projects, public records show.
Arthur Suverkropp, a supervising electrical inspector, is also the head of K&A Electric. The Honolulu-based company has applied for some 350 permits from DPP since 2007, according to city permitting data.
On 18 of those permits, issued between 2012 and 2021, Suverkropp is listed as the electrical inspector. In two instances, the permits show that the homeowner had been working with a different electrical company but switched to K&A Electric in the middle of the project.
In response to Civil Beat’s findings, Honolulu’s Department of Planning and Permitting said on Tuesday it had begun an investigation.
“This is extremely troubling,” said Honolulu Councilman Tyler Dos Santos-Tam. “It’s another black eye for a very beleaguered department that is going to need a lot of work from both the council and the leadership at the department.”
Dawn Takeuchi Apuna, DPP’s director designate, said Tuesday in an interview that the department was unaware of the situation until Civil Beat contacted the office for comment on Friday.
“We just have to do better and improve the system that we have to make sure that this type of misconduct does not happen,” she said.
Suverkopp did not respond to multiple messages left on his city, cell and company phone numbers.
Takeuchi Apuna declined to say whether he would be put on leave. She said her ability to share detailed information was restricted due to the investigation.
K&A Electric is registered in the name of Suverkropp’s wife, Katherine, who is not a licensed electrician. State records show Arthur Suverkropp is the principal and “responsible managing employee” of the company. It was unclear if the company has any other employees.
Told about Civil Beat’s findings, Honolulu Ethics Commission Executive Director Jan Yamane called the situation a “textbook conflict of interest.”
City ethics rules prohibit employees from engaging in business transactions or having a financial interest that is incompatible with their official duties or that may impair their independent judgment.
“It’s not immediately an ethical violation to have a second job, but that second job can’t be something that would touch a concern in your city job,” Yamane said. “And you wouldn’t be able to approve your own work that you’ve done in your second job.”
Suverkropp has held his dual roles for years, public records show. His company was registered with the state in 2007, and he’s been an electrician with the city since at least 2011, the year Civil Beat started its public employee salary database. DPP wouldn’t say whether he started working for the department earlier than that.
Honolulu requires all new employees to disclose their outside employment and specify whether their second jobs may interfere with their city work. Suverkropp disclosed his affiliation with K&A Electric in 2012, according to a form he filled out at the time, a copy of which DPP shared with Civil Beat on Tuesday evening.
In November 2012, Suverkropp told the Honolulu Ethics Commission’s then-associate legal counsel Laurie Wong that he does not inspect his own jobs or solicit business on city time, including during inspections, according to an email from Wong to Suverkropp that summarized the meeting. He told Wong that he was K&A Electric’s only employee but that he didn’t draw a paycheck from the business, the email states.
Wong wrote that her supervisor said the best way to avoid a conflict of interest would be to have one of Suverkropp’s superiors review any K&A Electric work that came to DPP “as opposed to your coworkers,” according to the email shared by DPP.
“Please let me know who we could speak with regarding this option,” she wrote.
If Suverkropp responded, DPP did not share a record of it on Tuesday. It’s unclear whether any departmental safeguards were put up to ensure Suverkropp wouldn’t review his own work. Takeuchi wasn’t aware of the disclosure as of Tuesday afternoon.
In the last decade, most of K&A Electric’s permits were inspected and approved by Suverkropp’s colleagues, including those ranked lower than him, public records show. That’s problematic, said Colin Moore, director of the University of Hawaii Public Policy Center. A lower-level employee assessing the work of a higher-up may fear reprisals, he said.
And as a supervisor at DPP, Suverkropp may have played an oversight role in the approval of additional K&A Electric projects inspected by subordinates in the department. Takeuchi Apuna didn’t know on Tuesday whether that had occurred.
The findings about Suverkropp come to light as DPP struggles to repair its image following a bribery scandal. Five employees were federally charged in 2021 with accepting money in exchange for giving applicants special treatment. A local architect was also charged.
Meanwhile, the department is struggling to rein in an unprecedented backlog amid a crisis of understaffing.
“It just erodes the organization’s integrity all the more for stuff like this to go on,” Moore said.
The latest investigation is one of seven probes the department has launched into potentially corrupt practices by its employees in the last two years, according to Takeuchi Apuna.
The director designate declined to provide details on those other cases, which she said are separate from those who were indicted. But Takeuchi Apuna said those investigations have helped to illuminate systemic problems in DPP that she is working to address.
The department lacks modern technology, standard operating procedures and checks and balances, she said.
“At the core of it, we need to fix a lot of these things in DPP which have kind of been derelict and allow the opportunity for people to take advantage,” she said. “So as we tighten up the system and we improve how we do things, we’ll have less opportunity for people to behave in this way.”
It makes sense that a DPP employee would want outside employment, Moore said. Supervising electrical inspectors make between $54,000 and $80,000 per year.
But if they’re going to moonlight in a business related to their day job, Moore said department leadership needs to be aware and procedures need to be established to create an ethical wall preventing that employee or their subordinates from working on those projects.
In the end, Suverkropp could face disciplinary action related to his second job, but it would have to come from DPP itself, Yamane said. The Ethics Commission is essentially powerless when it comes to union employees. It can only make recommendations to the department, she said.
Ken Kimi is among those who received electrical services from K&A Electric and was inspected by Suverkropp, according to his permit.
On Friday, he said he’s not sure how his electrician and inspector ended up being the same person since his general contractor handled everything. But he said he’s not concerned.
“Everything turned out well,” he said.
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