HILO — A state Ethics Commission attorney has cleared Mayor Harry Kim’s contracted lobbyist to perform his duties without registering as a lobbyist, according to county Corporation Counsel Joe Kamelamela.
Kamelamela asked for the opinion after County Council members questioned why contracted employee Andy Levin wasn’t registered with the state as is required of lobbyists lobbying on behalf of third parties. Registered lobbyists are required to submit regular reports detailing how much they spend on lobbying activities.
Levin’s $10,000-month, 89-day contract lists among his duties to “directly lobby the lawmakers on all county legislation, with an emphasis on county priority issues.”
Kamelamela said Monday the use of 89-day hires is a good way for the county to tap the expertise of retirees without having to pay for full-time employees. Levin, who served as executive assistant for Kim for his first two terms, is a former county councilman and state legislator.
“They are considered county employees,” Kamelamela said.
Kamelamela told the Ethics Commission in a Jan. 4 letter that Levin doesn’t have to register as a lobbyist because he’s a county employee. Levin’s contract refers to him as an employee, but clarifies he is not be entitled to vacation, sick leave or any other benefit not specifically identified in the contract. He’s excluded from collective bargaining coverage and exempt from civil service, according to his contract.
The Hawaii State Ethics Commission’s Lobbying Registration and Reporting Manual exempts “Any federal, state, or county official or employee acting in an official capacity, unless the federal, state, or county official or employee contracts for the services of a lobbyist.”
“A plain reading of that section clearly states that a county official or employee acting in his/her official capacity does not have to register as a lobbyist. Further, the section indicates that if that county official or employee ‘contracts for the services of a lobbyist,’ the official or employee becomes the ‘employing person’ and the lobbyist, who is not a county official or employee, must then register as a lobbyist,” Kamelamela said in the letter. “Given a plain reading of the statutory provision, I had opined that Mr. Levin did not have to register as a lobbyist because he would be a county employee acting in his official capacity.”
Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy, who had initiated the discussion on whether Levin needed to register, was not completely satisfied.
“The memo Mr. Kamelamela provided us guidance on whether Mr. Levin needed to register or not,” Lee Loy said Monday. “It’s led me to ask more questions; however, there are more important issues to deal with.”
Kamelamela told Lee Loy in a Jan. 8 memo he researched the state Ethics Commission website to see if it had addressed the specific case of a contracted employee and found no relevant decisions or guidelines. He then spoke with Ethics Commission attorney Nancy Neuffer, who verified there were none.
“Ms. Neuffer, nevertheless, determined that Mr. Levin was exempt from registering as a lobbyist given the terms and conditions of his 89-day employment contract, and the fact that he previously served as an executive assistant from 2000 to 2008 performing duties and responsibilities which also included the tracking and monitoring of legislative bills,” Kamelamela said in his memo, which was copied to the County Council, Kim and Levin.
Neuffer could be reached for comment Monday, a government holiday.