The Honolulu Ethics Commission has set a previously unscheduled meeting for next Tuesday, November 3, at 5:30 p.m. The agenda was filed late Wednesday afternoon, and distributed via email on Thursday.
Exactly why this special meeting is being held isn’t at all clear. The commission’s regular October meeting was held just a week ago, on October 21, and the next regular monthly meeting on November 18 has been on the commission’s calendar for months.
It appears next week’s special meeting must have been triggered by recent unspecified events.
There are several unusual aspects to the announcement. First, the meeting is being held in the late afternoon, whereas regular commission meetings have started at 11:30 a.m.
Second, two meeting places are listed on the agenda. The first is the commission office, the second a home in Kula, Maui. That property is owned by attorney and commission member Michael Lilly, so it appears he will be participating electronically via speaker phone.
The time change and teleconferencing indicates to me that a special effort is being made to have all members present.
The meeting has a single agenda item, to be held in a closed executive session.
?II. EXECUTIVE SESSION.
The Commission anticipates convening an executive session, pursuant to Hawaii Revised Statutes, Section 92-5(a) (4), to consult with the Commission’s attorney on questions and issues pertaining to the Commission’s powers, duties, privileges, immunities and liabilities related to personnel and management matters. [emphasis added]
In context of recent events, this is disquieting.
The commission recently dismissed all charges in a case brought against three city council members for accepting illegal gifts from lobbyists. The reasons for the dismissals were not publicly disclosed.
These charges raised questions of whether a series of rail-related council votes would be considered valid if a majority of council members were later found to have improperly accepted gifts from lobbyists that weren’t publicly disclosed as potential conflicts. Although it seems unlikely that the rail project could have been stopped even if these votes were declared to be legally void, just the possibility posed political challenges for Mayor Kirk Caldwell.
The three council members were ably represented by former congresswoman and attorney, Colleen Hanabusa, recently appointed to the board of directors of the agency that manages the rail project.
Earlier, Caldwell’s recent appointees to the commission led the charge to institute a restrictive media policy that would have made it very difficult for the commission’s professional staff to communicate with the news media and the public.
And the mayor’s administration has been and remains at odds with the commission, and has been seen as repeatedly obstructing the commission’s investigative efforts.
So what’s really the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting? It seems reasonable to assume it concerns the commission’s executive director and chief legal counsel, Chuck Totto, unless the commission is going to micromanage things farther down through the staff ranks.
And given the context of events of the past six months, it’s worrisome.