Let's Create a Higher Standard for Ethical Government
by Keli'i Akina, Ph.D., President/CEO, Grassroot Institute of Hawaii
From time to time Hawaii's only large-circulation newspaper, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, gets it absolutely right, as in its recent pronouncement: "The fact that something is legal doesn't make it a good idea."
This applies to the controversy surrounding the ethics of the Honolulu City Council in its decisions concerning the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transit (HART) rail project. The city Ethics Director, Chuck Toto, raised concerns about the majority of council members who had received substantial gifts from rail lobbyists prior to their votes of support for the project.
Unfortunately, Toto's concerns were dismissed by the ethics commission board. Subsequently, a private citizen has filed suit against the City Council based on the same concerns raised by the Ethics Director. Now, as the Star-Advertiser points out, the law firm the City Council members have elected to retain at a hefty six-figure fee, is the firm in which Council member and former Council chair Ivan Lui-Kwan is a partner.
The court of law will determine whether the City Council members had a conflict of interest in their rail decision. But the court of public opinion can readily determine whether the Council tolerates the appearance of conflicts of interest. If we want to see more responsible and accountable government, then it's up to the public to set the standard for what ethical government looks like.