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Ian Lind • Online daily from Kaaawa, Hawaii

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Mayor can’t win feud with Ethics Commission

December 10th, 2013 · 6 Comments · Computers, Ethics, Politics

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.

10-18-2013 “Ethics Probe into Honolulu Mayor Sparks Talk of Reform

11-05-2013 “Is Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell Trying to Weaken the Ethics Commission?

11-18-2013 “What’s Going on Between Ethics Commission and Caldwell Administration?

12-05-2013 “Will The Honolulu Ethics Commission Have To Subpoena The Mayor’s Cabinet?

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.

The commission’s current chair, attorney Charles W. Gall, is, like Smith, a partner in the Kobayashi law firm, according to the list of attorney’s one firm’s website.

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.


6 Comments so far ↓

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  • Palolololo

    No, he won’t win, but he can drag it out.

  • Curious

    So much incest it’s almost shocking. Did the commission ever decide whether it was okay for a secretive and conflict-ridden private fundraising group to secretly pay for a secret chief of staff? Did it pay for any others too?

    • Lopaka43


      By the way, it is very easy to do a google search for Honolulu Ethics Commission Opinions.

      And did you ever get an opinion on whether you had to stop beating your ….?

      • Curious

        Is the chief of staff fiasco really addressed in your link? Where? Or was it swept under the rug? Can you point to anything specific or are you just beating your… ?

        • Lopaka43

          You asked if the commission had addressed the chief of staff issue in a way that strongly suggested you thought unethical behavior or corrupt behavior was involved.

          If you were really curious, you would go look through the opinions yourself to see what the answer to your question was. Then you could come here and tell us what you found.

          The reference I posted was to the commission’s ruling on the funding of transition and inaugral expenses through private donations, which Ian had raised as one of the major issues that might be influencing the difficulties between the Administration and the Ethics Commission. What is your assessment of their findings? Do they suggest an answer to your concerns about the chief of staff matter?

          And you don’t have to stop there. You could quickly look at the other Commission opinions to see if they had any bearing on the issue you supposedly are curious about.

  • Natalie

    ORI is a tangled mess that may never be fully exposed.

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