Audit rips city's junk-car policy
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By Johnny Brannon
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Johnny Brannon
Junk cars have often remained abandoned on O'ahu's streets for weeks because Honolulu officials have been slow and sloppy about removing them, according to an audit released yesterday.
For years, the city's Motor Vehicle Control Section did not accurately track complaints about junkers to make sure they were towed away, the audit found.
"Hundreds of unrecorded abandoned and derelict vehicle reports lay in boxes," the report states. "Motor vehicle control administrators blame inexperienced staff and staff shortages for the backlog."
Four of the city's 15 motor vehicle inspectors were on sick leave or otherwise absent for more than 100 workdays during a three-year period ending in mid-2006, City Auditor Leslie Tanaka found.
And one inspector was out for more than 700 days, according to the audit.
City Customer Services director Jeff Coelho said he generally agreed with the report and had begun addressing the problems before the audit began.
"The audit confirms exactly what I found when I took over this department (in January 2006), that we need to modernize the whole motor vehicle complaints and removal section," Coelho said.
The city has emphasized the quick removal of vehicles deemed "derelicts" — those missing wheels, doors or otherwise clearly inoperable — and has made considerable progress, he said.
The audit found that such junk-heaps are generally towed within 15 days, but that officials were sometimes slow to respond to complaints.
Other abandoned vehicles are supposed to be towed away within two weeks but often remain dumped on the roadside for three weeks or more, the audit found.
Motor vehicle officials and police often duplicate each other's work by investigating reports separately instead of coordinating their efforts, according to the report. And repeated complaints about the same vehicles waste everyone's time, the report said.
Coelho said antiquated systems for tracking complaints and responses will be modernized.
"If you think its hard to make an IBM computer talk to a Macintosh, try having an IBM talk to a yellow 'Post-It' note," he quipped.
He said the staff shortages have been due mainly to high turnover caused by low pay. He said he had requested that the jobs be reclassified at a higher pay scale so experienced inspectors would be more likely to remain.
GO TO THE TOP
The audit also found that residents who complain about junk cars see them towed away more quickly if they contact the mayor's office or a City Council member, rather than motor vehicle officials or police.
The city has also been slow to sell abandoned cars to junk yards and repair shops, a process that backs up the system and leaves other junkers on the street.
"Inefficient auction practices backlog tow lots, delay towing, and affect potential city revenues," according to the report.
Failing to enforce towing contracts properly over three years may have cost the city more than $650,000 for contract violations and towing fees that should have been forfeited, the audit found.
Reach Johnny Brannon at email@example.com.