ADVISORY OPINION 2018-2
From Honolulu Ethics Commission, October 17, 2018 (excerpt)
…City administration introduced to the Charter Commission a proposal (“Proposal”) related to the jurisdiction of a Department. RCH § 6-102. 2 The Department also briefed the Charter Commission on the Proposal. Department personnel testified in support of the Proposal before the Charter Commission for three consecutive months in 2016. Numerous other city agencies also testified before the Charter Commission in support of their respective proposals. The Charter Commission approved about 20 proposed charter amendments to be placed on the ballot.
Thereafter, the City administration requested that department heads provide information, in the form of an op-ed or otherwise, to muster support for ballot measures directly impacting their respective departments.
On or about October 27, 2016, the Department Head uploaded a video message (“Video Message”) that Department employees could access via a link on the Department’s intranet. The Department Head regularly uploaded video messages on the Department’s intranet on a monthly basis. The Video Message was about nine minutes long. The Department Head discussed several topics including: hiring status, claims filings, new Department unit opening; and accolades to Department personnel. The Department Head spent approximately one minute discussing the November election and the Proposal. 3
The election was held on November 8, 2016. The Proposal was approved by the voters. Thereafter, a concern was filed with the Ethics Commission alleging that the Department Head’s intranet video message was a misuse of city resources for political purposes (“Concern”).
City employees may not use city resources for non-city purposes, including political and campaign activities. RCH § 11-104; Administrative Directive No. 160 (January 29, 2008). However, the Commission allows the use of city resources to support ballot measures under certain circumstances:
City resources may be used in support of a legitimate government purpose that is within the scope of duties expressly or implicitly associated with the position of the city officer or employee whose conduct is in question. At times, an issue of legitimate government concern also is or may be relevant to an election or ballot measure. Absent a showing that city resources were used primarily for political campaign activities or purposes as defined above, the government purpose was misrepresented or similar questions, the fact that there is both a governance and a political aspect to an issue does not alone create a violation of RCH Sec. 11-104.
The Commission believes that this language supports the Department Head’s actions. The Department Head’s scope of duties is sufficiently broad to imply that it includes educating and informing Department employees of the administration’s official position on the charter amendment affecting the Department. Further, the Department Head’s actions were in accordance with City administration’s request to muster support for proposed charter amendments….
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