Four members of the University of Hawaii Board of Regents appear to have violated the “fair treatment” provisions of the state ethics code by making complimentary tickets to UH athletic events available to friends and family members, according to a series of informal advisory opinions recently released by the State Ethics Commission.
Although the opinions do not name UH or the Board of Regents, the descriptions clearly refer to members of the BOR.
It appears ethics complaints were filed against several regents during or as a result of the debate over a $50 per semester athletic fee for all UH Manoa students which was approved by the Board of Regents in mid-2010. At the time, students opposed to the fee increase charged that regents who accepted free athletic tickets provided by the Athletic Department violated the conflict of interest provisions of the ethics code when they voted to approve the fee, which directly benefited athletics.
In a series of four nearly identical opinions now posted on the Ethics Commission website, the commission determined there were no violations of laws governing acceptance or reporting of gifts, nor any conflicts of interest created by the free tickets.
The commission said that, based on current policies, a member of the Board of Regents can accept two tickets to an event for themselves and their spouse.
However, the commission concluded regents appear to have violated the “fair treatment” provisions by allowing friends, family members, or business associates to use their free tickets.
The commission rejected arguments made by several regents that taking along friends or relatives made it possible for the regent represent the university at the events that they would not otherwise have attended.
“The commission was not persuaded by that argument,” the opinions state.
Although probable violations of law were found, the commission determined that no further action was necessary.
The opinions refers to the university administration’s recent adoption of more restrictive policies for use of complimentary tickets.
Each of the related opinions concluded:
The Commission was satisfied that, henceforth, the Agency would implement ticket distribution policies consistent with the Commission’s recent guidance issued to the Agency, and in accordance with the State Ethics Code. The Commission expected that the Agency’s policies would serve to prevent the types of problems that arose in the official’s case.