The following draft letter from the Honolulu Ethics Commission to Mayor Caldwell has been leaked to the media:
To Mayor Caldwell
From Katy Chen, Vice Chair Honolulu Ethics Commission
June, 2014 (DRAFT)
Requesting the Administration's Support for the Ethics Commission
I am writing on behalf of the Honolulu Ethics Commission to ask your Administration to take steps to support the City Ethics program.
Beginning in September, 2013, the Corporation Counsel delayed and impeded the Commission's work, as described below. Similar actions continue to undermine the Commission's ability to provide the best services to Honolulu's citizens.
In the Fall of 2013, the Corporation Counsel asserted that she had the ability to control the Commission's budget, even to the extent of making line-item reductions. The Commission repeatedly expressed that her unilateral changes to the Commission's FY2014 and FY2015 budgets endangered the Commission's independence. When the Corporation Counsel restricts the Commission's budget, she is also limiting the resources that can be brought to bear on the ethical issues facing City government. Examples of interference include the Corporation Counsel challenging the need for and delaying the contract of the Commission's only investigator and rejecting the need for additional staff resources for FY2015.
The Corporation Counsel's conduct in the last month provides another example of misguided budget control. In early May, the Commission requested to purchase a $600 GPS tracking device to aid in investigating an alleged scheme by certain employees to defraud the city by taking pay for work that was not performed. The scheme is estimated to cost the public $250,000 annually. The purchase request was based on a COR legal opinion that use of a tracking device was lawful. Regardless, she waited five weeks while apparently mulling over 'policy implications' before conditionally approving the $600 purchase, by which time the investigative window on the case had closed.
By memorandum to the Commission dated June 5, 2014 Corporation Counsel will now allow the purchase of the tracking device, but only if the Commission agrees in writing to certain conditions. The conditions point out that the Corporation Counsel retains serious legal concerns. Yet. she has failed to describe, much less advise on, those issues. For Instance, the Corporation Counsel requires that the Commission comply with all laws, and governmental rules, regulations and policies, including the federal and state constitutions with regard to this device." It goes without saying that every agency must follow the law. Why is the Corporation Counsel conditioning approval on such generalities while not discussing the specific legal problems she believes may be implicated by the use of the tracking device? Moreover the Corporation Counsel will not say whether the use of the device Is legal. This is perplexing In light of COR's legal opinion on the same subject from a few years ago. Is the opinion no longer valid?
In another example affecting the top echelon of city leaders, the Managing Director appears to have directed all cabinet members to seek ethics advice from Corporation Counsel, not from the Commission. There are several cogent reasons why this order Is poor ethics policy and we submitted those reasons to the Administration .
In addition, when the Managing Director appeared before the Commission to discuss the Commission's FY2015 budget, her comments focused on the employee grievances that might result from finding that personnel had misused City resources, not on the loss of taxpayer funds and the public trust in City government. The Commission hopes this does not reflect the position of the Administration.
It is the Commission's desire to work collegially with you and the members of your Administration to resolve these difficulties. As a first step, the Commission suggests that COR's role be clarified regarding the Commission. The role of the COR should be limited to the ministerial functions such as payroll, purchasing and tracking budget expenditures. The Department may also advise the Commission on personnel and budget matters, but should not substitute its discretion for that of the Commission in these matters. This will help revitalize the independence of the Commission, as wall as
demonstrate the Administration's commitment to an excellent ethics program.
The Commission looks forward to your response.
cc: Donna Y. L. Leong, Corporation Counsel
LINK: PDF of Letter