I can’t fathom what Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s administration thinks it can gain from its ongoing attempts to circumvent, intimidate, or undermine the county’s ethics commission.
Civil Beat’s Nick Grube has done a good job in following the ethics feud.
There seem to have been a several focal issues, including the ethics commission’s investigation into the city’s relationship with ORI Anuenue Hale, which faces continuing questions of its use of federal block grant funds, and the commission’s investigation and report on the nearly $400,000 in private funds raised for Caldwell’s inauguration, much of it from companies doing business with the city
The commission’s findings regarding the money raised by Caldwell’s Mayoral Transition Committee are available in Advisory Opinion 2013-3.
The transition committee submitted a legal brief with its take on the issue.
It led to one of those “small world” moments for me.
The transition committee is represented by Honolulu attorney Lex Smith, who was the sole incorporator who filed the legal papers to create the committee as a nonprofit organization. Smith is an attorney with the firm of Kobayashi Sugita and Goda, a firm which, by the way, does a major amount of legal work for the city under a series of non-bid contracts.
This is a bit awkward, since the ethics commission concluded that contributions from those with business dealings with the city constituted “prohibited gifts” under the city’s ethics provisions.
Regular readers of this site might recall Smith’s name. He served as chairman of the Honolulu Ethics Commission until he resigned in mid-2010 in order to take an active role in Kirk Caldwell’s campaign.
And his name was in the news again last month after the eviction of the president of the Kahuku Plantation Residents Association in the ongoing controversy surrounding a planned development by Continental Pacific.
As Civil Beat noted:
In an eyebrow-raising twist to the drawn out saga, Lex Smith, the local attorney for Continental Pacific, bought Maghanoy’s home and two other village homes earlier this year. The purchase raised ethical and legal questions about whether a lawyer for the seller, embroiled in legal challenges, can become a buyer for that very development.
In the end, I don’t see what Mayor Caldwell gains from these various challenges to the authority of the ethics commission.
It seems to me the State Constitution is quite clear about the commission’s authority in matters related to ethics. It provides, in part:
To keep faith with this belief, the legislature, each political subdivision and the constitutional convention shall adopt a code of ethics which shall apply to appointed and elected officers and employees of the State or the political subdivision, respectively, including members of the boards, commissions and other bodies.
Each code of ethics shall be administered by a separate ethics commission, except the code of ethics adopted by the constitutional convention which shall be administered by the state ethics commission. The members of ethics commissions shall be prohibited from taking an active part in political management or in political campaigns. Ethics commissioners shall be selected in a manner which assures their independence and impartiality.
So why is Caldwell pursuing this ultimately losing strategy? That’s the key question, and I one I can’t answer.