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DBEDT and Senate committee communication shuts down amid allegations of bullying, harassment

A briefing on how to reopen Hawaii’s economy was canceled today due to an evolving spat between some members of the Senate Special Committee on COVID-19 and the head of the state Department of Business Economic Development & Tourism.

DBEDT Director Mike McCartney was slated to present an economic redevelopment plan along with about nine department heads under his agency’s umbrella. But just after the 1 p.m. briefing was supposed to start, McCartney sent an email to Senate President Ron Kouchi asking him to postpone DBEDT’s appearance.

McCartney informed Kouchi that he was filing a complaint under Rule 72 against Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz and Sen. Glenn Wakai “for violations under title 10 of the state administrative polices and procedures and rule 81 of the senate rules.”

“Please know I am (and the entire DBEDT Ohana) are ready, fully committed and eager to participate in the policy making process — such as hearings — but only when I (as the Director) can be assured that DBEDT employees will no longer be subjected to bullied, harassment, intimidation and threats which have created a hostile work environment,” McCartney said in the email.

Kouchi did not immediately return a call to the Star-Advertiser.

Dela Cruz, who chairs the Senate Special Committee on COVID-19 and the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said he was blindsided by McCartney’s decision and hasn’t seen the referenced complaint.

Dela Cruz said the Senate committee asked state Attorney General Clare Connors today to help facilitate a future briefing with DBEDT.

“We need DBEDT’s information so that we can move the economy forward. Tourism isn’t going to be the panacea it once was. We have to diversify the economy and start creating jobs,” he said. “We’ve got over 220,000 people unemployed. If we don’t get them back to work, the economists are saying that we could lose 25,000 residents. If we want to change the trajectory of what these economists are saying, we need to take action.”

McCartney said DBEDT’s State Economic Recovery Draft Strategy Plan is posted on the DBEDT website and was shared with the Senate before 1 p.m. today.

“We are awaiting for further assurances from Senate leadership on how best move to forward in a safe and tolerant environment where all employees are treated professionally and respectfully, following the Senate anti-harassment policy,” McCartney said in a statement.

Kouchi did not immediately return calls from the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

Dela Cruz said he couldn’t comment on McCartney’s complaint because he hasn’t seen it. He said neither McCartney nor any other DBEDT staff had informed him of any outstanding issues either.

The Senate Investigating Committee was rescinded earlier this week at Gov. David Ige’s request, Dela Cruz said. The committee, which was authorized through a resolution passed by the Senate on the last day of the last session, gave lawmakers the power to use subpoenas to compel people to provide them with testimony.

Sen. Sharon Moriwaki said she was “floored” that McCartney refused to allow DBEDT staff to participate in the briefing and was disappointed that “we were stood up a second time.”

McCartney also refused to allow his staff to participate during a May 21 during a joint hearing of the Senate Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Committee on Energy, Economic Development and Tourism.

“I’ve sat through the hearings and haven’t seen anything that would be ‘bullying’ or ‘harassment,’” Moriwaki said. “(Mike McCartney) hasn’t given us specific instances where such things have occurred. If he had, I’d feel more obliged to look at it. But he hasn’t done anything like that so I feel that he’s drawing a line in the sand where there shouldn’t be one.”

State lawmakers had hoped to call on DBEDT during that hearing to outline a plan to begin replacing tourism jobs. Instead, McCartney used his time to accuse unidentified senators of creating a hostile workplace.

McCartney said a draft of DBEDT’s economic recovery plan also was made available for the previous hearing on May 21 that was postponed, he said.

Wakai, chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy, Economic Development and Tourism, said he remains disappointed in McCartney’s decision not to allow staff to work with the Senate committee toward Hawaii’s economic recovery.

McCartney previously named Wakai in a Senate complaint earlier this year. However, the Senate has not released that investigation.

“I find it highly disappointing that we can’t get past personal differences. Today’s events show that it’s not really a beef between myself and Mike McCartney — it’s a beef between him and the Legislature. He doesn’t want to be asked questions about economic recovery,” Wakai said.

Last year, Wakai and Dela Cruz were among 11 senators that moved not to confirm Ige’s nomination of McCartney to head DBEDT. However, six of the Senate committee members were among the 14 that supported McCartney’s nomination.

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