Wille wants bigger Ethics Board

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Kohala Councilwoman Margaret Wille wants to see a larger, more independent Board of Ethics, and she’s working on a charter amendment to do just that.

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Kohala Councilwoman Margaret Wille wants to see a larger, more independent Board of Ethics, and she’s working on a charter amendment to do just that.

Wille said she’s sponsoring a bill for a charter amendment to change the current selection process from a five-member board appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the County Council to a nine-member board with each council member appointing a representative, subject to confirmation by the full council.

Wille said she’s been frustrated lately by the shortage of Ethics Board members and their seeming inability to take a strong stance against potential wrongdoing by the administration. One recent case, where the board postponed a complaint against Mayor Billy Kenoi for personal use of his county credit card, or pCard, is an example, she said.

“It was wrong and nobody did anything about it and it was covered up,” Wille said. “If we abdicate, we’re also sort of saying there’s nothing done wrong.”

The County Council would have to approve the amendment to be put on the ballot for the next election, and then it must be passed by a majority of voters before it could become law.

If the structure is changed, it would make Hawaii County different from the three other counties. Honolulu and Kauai each have seven-member boards appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the council. Maui’s nine-member board is selected the same way.

But Wille, and Kailua-Kona resident Cheryl King, who has submitted complaints to the Board of Ethics before, say the current five-member board is hamstrung because it is two members short, and all three members must be present to create a quorum. With his own personal ethics charges looming, the mayor hasn’t filled the two vacancies.

“I’m just trying to get where we have a little more trust in government, without any preferential treatment,” Wille said.

In addition, said King, all three current board members, Chairwoman Ku Kahakalau, member Douglass Adams and member Ken Goodenow, are from East Hawaii. The meetings are held in Hilo, and West Hawaii residents don’t have the access to Ethics Board meetings that their East Hawaii peers do, she said. The three members are all Kenoi appointees.

“We definitely need a change in the way the Ethics Commission is composed,” King said. “It needs to be more representative.”

The makeup of the Ethics Board isn’t the only legislation Wille is bringing forward. She’s also working on a resolution seeking council approval of a public statement of reprimand for Kenoi.

“I want to get some closure there,” she said.

Wille’s resolution follows a failed attempt to reserve 30 minutes on the Sept. 1 council committee agenda to discuss “whether a public reprimand would be an appropriate action for the council to take,” according to Wille’s Aug. 12 memo to council Chairman Dru Kanuha.

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Kanuha said Thursday that he didn’t schedule Wille’s request on the agenda because there was already a pCard item on the agenda Tuesday, giving council members an opportunity to discuss the issue. That agenda item dealt with Bill 78, sponsored by Puna Councilman Greggor Ilagan, to tighten rules governing pCards.

“It didn’t make sense when we already had an item on the agenda where we’re talking about the pCard,” Kanuha said. “I spoke to Margaret about why it didn’t seem necessary and she was all right with that.”