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Saturday, June 7, 2014
Ethics: City Employee Processes Dozens of Permits for His Own Contracting Company
By News Release @ 6:25 PM :: 5370 Views :: Honolulu County, Ethics

Honolulu Ethics Commission Advisory Opinion 2014-3 May 30, 2014 (excerpts)

I. SUMMARY

A city employee admitted to making an appearance before a city agency when he/she had been told repeatedly by Ethics Commission staff not to do so. The Commission recommends that the appointing authority suspend the employee between 1-3 days in light of his/her disregard of legal advice from Commission staff and the city’s ethics laws. The city employee did not request a hearing for this matter, therefore, the Commission renders its opinion on the basis of the information available to it. Revised Ordinances of Honolulu (“ROH”) Sec. 3-6.7(c)

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Employee is an [position] in the [] Division, Department[], City and County of Honolulu.  He/She has worked for Department in this position since 2007. Employee’s office is in the Fasi Municipal Building (“FMB”). Employee is also the principal and responsible managing employee of [Business], his/her general contracting company which was incorporated in [date].

A. Complaint 1 Received on [Date], 2012

On or about [Date], 2012, Commission staff received a complaint that Employee was using city work time to stand in line to process residential building permit applications. Thereafter, Commission staff questioned Employee regarding the allegations. He/she responded that he/she only processed building permits at the One Stop Permit Center (“Center”), Department of Planning and Permitting (“DPP”), during lunch or break time, and that sometimes he/she takes vacation time to process the permits. The Center is located on the first floor of the FMB. Commission staff thanked him/her for his/her clarification and stated that no further action was needed as it was staff’s understanding that he/she was processing personal applications for his/her residence. On or about [date], Employee attended Ethics Training.

B. Complaint 2 Received on [Date], 2013

A little over a year later, on or about [Date], 2013, Commission staff received another complaint that Employee was using city work time to process building permit applications for his/her clients from Business. Employee was acting as a permit expediter who applied for building permits on behalf of clients and acted as a liaison and coordinator between the home owner client and DPP plan review.

On or about December 2, 2013, Commission staff interviewed Employee regarding the November 26, 2013 complaint. During that interview he/she stated that he/she did not understand that he/she was violating any laws because he/she only processed building permit applications on his/her own time, not on city work time....

During that interview Employee communicated that he/she understood that he/she could not make any physical appearances at city agencies, in particular the Center, DPP. He/She stated that he/she only had a few remaining active applications that were being processed....

On December 3, 2013, Commission staff specifically informed Employee that “there is an absolute prohibition against appearing on behalf of private interests before city agencies” and “all arrangements for the building permit application process must be made through the established channels by ordinary persons – not through you.”

In order to stop any further appearances at the Center he/she was advised to replace his/her name and/or his/her business’ name with the home owner’s name on approximately 30 active/open building permit applications. Commission staff received confirmation that this was done.

Staff advised Employee that although he/she was restricted from making an appearance for his/her clients and other private interests, he/she may provide them with information about who to contact in the City, what information is needed for a permit, and where the particular office is located. But, all arrangements for the building permit application process must be made through the established channels used by ordinary persons – not through him/her....

C. Complaint 3 Received [Date], 2014

About four months later, on or about [Date], 2014, Commission staff received a third complaint alleging that Employee made an appearance at the Center to process another building permit application. Commission staff investigated the allegations.  Employee confirmed that on or about [Date], 2014 he/she dropped off his/her [Family Member’s] friend’s building permit application [No.] to the [] Branch, DPP, for a property located at [address] with a note to call Friend for pick up. According to Employee, his/her Family Member asked him/her to help Friend because Friend had previously spent seven hours processing a permit earlier in the month because he/she stood in the wrong line. Further, Friend had problems communicating as English was his/her second language and he/she needed to respond to comments on his/her building permit application.

Commission staff confirmed that on or about [Date], 2014 Employee returned to the [] Branch to pick up the application and/or plans. At that time, the plans examiner was too busy and asked that he/she wait for the response. After approximately ten minutes, the examiner assisted Employee with making the required changes to the plans and reviewing the notes in the application.  Thereafter, the examiner processed the permit. Staff was unable to determine whether Employee was on city work time while at DPP....

read ... Honolulu Ethics Commission Advisory Opinion 2014-3 May 30, 2014

SA: Honolulu ethics group reprimands city employee

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