by Andrew Walden
With manifold corruption scandals enveloping Hawaii at all levels, one might expect State and County ethics boards and auditors to be going gangbusters.
In fact many are at their lowest level of activity in years. At the State level, and in Honolulu County, they have been openly beaten down by political attacks from corrupt officials.
This proves there is much more corruption to be ferreted out--and the crooks know it.
The ongoing legislative show trial against Hawaii State Auditor Les Kondo is most obvious example. Unlike others, Kondo is refusing to resign after months of widely ridiculed sham hearings directed by House Speaker Scott Saiki and Larry Mehau associate Colleen Hanabusa. Recent testimony urging legislators to ‘take action’ against Kondo by former Honolulu Auditor Edwin Young -- who earlier this year ‘chaired’ Hanabusa’s anti-Kondo ‘working group’-- merely demonstrates Young is and has been a compliant machine operative. This, in turn, tells us what we need to know about Young’s years as Honolulu Auditor.
Hanabusa’s attack on Kondo comes in the wake of strenuous efforts by Kondo to get to the root of corruption at the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. In response to the sham hearings, Kondo, October 28, 2021, additionally revealed that Speaker Saiki personally intervened to shut down Kondo’s effort to audit Honolulu Rail.
STATE ETHICS COMMISSION
The Legislature served also as the locus of attacks on Hawaii State Ethics Commission Executive Director Dan Gluck. Nominated to the ICA, Gluck was rejected by Senators after complaints that he was the wrong race and gender to serve on the Court. It is hard to miss the subtext of demands for more ethnically Hawaiian judges after recent court rulings that the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and its LLCs are actually part of the State of Hawaii and are bound by Hawaii State ethics laws, procurement code, UIPA, and Sunshine Laws. OHA insiders plainly expect Hawaiian judges to be more favorable to corruption by Hawaiians.
Not only did Gluck not get the Judgeship, but shortly after the nomination debacle, he announced his resignation as Executive Director pending a search for his replacement.
(UPDATE Jan 4, 222: Gluck replaced by pro-rail corporate lawyer.)
The gutting of Sunshine Laws and on the Uniform Information Practices Act has been more direct and less personal than the attacks on the State Ethics Commission and the State Auditor. Governor Ige--alone amongst the 50 state governors--used COVID Emergency Orders to suspend UIPA. This policy continued with one Emergency Order after another until August 5, 2021. Meanwhile, access to legislative offices is only for insiders and lobbyists. And most public hearings at all levels of government are conducted without in-person testimony.
The big development? Citing Ige’s November 29, 2021, Emergency Order, the Office of Information Practices explains:
The Proclamation specifically requires the board’s notice to now contain electronic and postal contact information for submission of testimony before the meeting.
The picture at the county level is no better.
For calendar year 2021, the Honolulu Ethics Commission has produced only one opinion--2021-1 Lobbyist Failure to File. This is the fewest since record-keeping began in 1967. Ethics Commission Executive Director & Legal Counsel Jan K. Yamane was formerly State Auditor.
A ticking time bomb?
A March, 2020, ruling of the State Supreme Court purportedly cleared the way for release of a secret report on wrongdoing in Jan Yamane's State Auditor's Office. Subsequent legal wrangling has as yet prevented the actual release of the report.
Old boy operative Edwin Young resigned as Honolulu Auditor in 2019. After two years under interim auditor Troy Shimasaki, Arushi Kumar took over as City Auditor December 1, 2021.
Akamai readers will note the absence of audits focusing on obvious centers of corruption such as Rail, HPD, the County Prosecutor’s Office, or DPP.
The Hawaii County Board of Ethics has been active--for instance ruling December 9, 2020, on the ethics of Mayor Harry Kim giving material support to anti-telescope protesters--but its website has no list of opinions or rulings. This makes it difficult for County employees, vendors and the public to know what precedents have been set by previous Ethics Board rulings. In response to a Hawai'i Free Press query, ethics staffer Liza Osorio says: "In the past, County of Hawaii Board of Ethics never posted opinions online. Recently we were informed that it is okay to do so. We are currently working on getting that completed."
The Hawaii County Auditor produced three reports in 2020, and only one so far for 2021.
The Maui County Board of Ethics has published only three advisory opinions for 2021 -- the lowest since 2012.
The Maui County Auditor is the least active in Hawaii, for 2021 publishing only one report: “20-02, Report on the Fiscal Sustainability and Financial Condition of the County of Maui”. The Auditor has published only two non-mandated reports since 2016.
The Kauai County Board of Ethics also does not publish its opinions online. According to County Spokesperson Kim Tamaoka, the Board issued two opinions so far in calendar year 2021--both findings of ‘no conflict’. A third request was withdrawn. For fiscal year 2021 (partly overlapping the calendar year) the total was three opinions and four findings of ‘no conflict’. Citing "staff shortages" Tamaoka tells Hawai'i Free Press, "There are no immediate plans at this time (to post decisions online)."
Ironically for the smallest county, the Kauai County Auditor appears to be among the most active in the State producing six or seven reports every year. Notably, September 27, 2021: ‘Kauai County: Supervisors on FlexTime, Employees Moonlighting’.