Monday, January 31, 2011


SOMEONE UP THERE IS LISTENING: The mockery of ethics that is the Kaua`i Board of Ethics (BOE- just click the link for our coverage of their many foibles) has been a source of laughs-o-plenty for those like us who have a perverse sense of humor.

But that could end- or at least be curtained- if a bill in the state legislature, set for a hearing tomorrow (Tuesday, 2/1/11) at 2 p.m., passes this year.

County ethics board members are selected, not for their sense of ethical stridency but, often for being so personally conflicted that their decisions have to apply to themselves, necessitating twisted logic in clearing county officials and employees even when a child could see the ethical violations.

And of course they are appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the council- the very people upon whom they could potentially sit in judgment.

That would change if House Bill HB468 becomes law.

In proposing the law the bill explains that”

Article XIV of the Constitution of the State of Hawaii provides in pertinent part: "Ethics commissioners shall be selected in a manner which assures their independence and impartiality." Each member of the state ethics commission is appointed by the governor from a list of two persons nominated by the judicial council. The Hawaii supreme court appoints members of the judicial council, which does not include legislators. In contrast, members of the Honolulu ethics commission are appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the Honolulu city council, both of which are subject to oversight by the county ethics commission.

The legislature further finds that, in order to effectuate article XIV of the Hawaii State Constitution, the process for selecting members of county ethics commissions should not involve persons who are subject to regulation by ethics commissions.

The purpose of this Act is to provide standards for the selection of county ethics commissioners to ensure their impartiality and independence.

The bill “provides standards for the selection of county ethics commission members to ensure their impartiality and independence” by creating an independent body to select BOE nominees.

It proposes amending Chapter 46 of Hawaii Revised Statutes to say

(a) Each county shall cause to be adopted a charter amendment for the creation of an independent body that shall select members of the county ethics commission. Members of the independent body shall not be subject to confirmation by the county legislative body and shall not be subject to the jurisdiction of the ethics commission of their county. To ensure minimal involvement in the process by persons over which the commission has oversight, members of each county ethics commission shall be appointed:

(1) From a list of nominees selected by the independent body; or

(2) In accordance with comparable alternative selection methods as provided by county ordinance.

(b) Each county shall have a selection process in place that meets the criteria for any appointment made after the effective date of this part.

It also includes criteria for the independent body to use in their selections:

Character of county ethics commissioners. A county ethics commissioner shall be selected on the basis of integrity, impartiality, and independence, as reflected by, among other things, the background and experiences of the person and the absence of potential conflicts of interest; provided that county ordinance may provide for additional criteria.

While it won’t change who ultimately selects the board members- it’s kind of hard or even impossible to have appointment processes that fully omit elected officials- it will make the list of prospective nominees subject to public scrutiny and independent selection.

We are kind of concerned about the line that provides for a “comparable alternative selection methods as provided by county ordinance” and would like to see it, if not deleted, at least clarified so as to make it clear what “comparable” means.

Please take the time to send testimony even if it’s just one line saying “I support this bill.” Though you may not think so, they really do listen sometimes. And they certainly won’t if no one sends in any testimony.

Time is of the essence. Testimony should be emailed to

Use the subject line: Testimony on HB 468, 2/1/11, 2 p.m., JUD Committee hearing

As with all House testimony make sure you include:
The testifier's name with position/title and organization;
The committee the comments are directed to;
The date and time of the hearing;
The measure number.

Few have forgotten the BOE and the KC Lum fiasco where a complaint by the chair of the council was used to railroad a police commissioner resulting in Lum’s departure.

And many remember what happened to Rolf Bieber who was refused re-appointment after trying to bring some ethical standards to the BOE.

Although this bill won’t solve all the problems with the BOE it would strengthen the independence of the board members and provide for public input on the selection as well as set standards for the independent body to use in their picks.

The companion Senate Bill SB214, has not yet scheduled for a hearing.

Also on the agenda for tomorrow’s meeting are two other bills of note that we whole-heartedly support.

HB 638 (Status) Relating To Elections:
Provides for instant runoff voting for all elections in which no primary election is held; authorizes the chief election officer or the county clerk to use the instant runoff voting method in special elections that would normally require a separate runoff election if no candidate received a majority of votes.

And one more, near and dear to our heart.

HB 640 (Status) Relating To Public Agency Meetings
Requires any action taken in an executive meeting be reported when the board reconvenes at the open meeting.

Testimony on these two can go to the same address, substituting the bill number in the subject line.

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