Ethics Board finds county construction inspector violated code

A county construction inspector who became too involved in a Holualoa neighborhood dispute was found Wednesday to have violated the county ethics code.

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A county construction inspector who became too involved in a Holualoa neighborhood dispute was found Wednesday to have violated the county ethics code.

The Board of Ethics unanimously found that Robert Northrop violated the provision of the ethics code governing fair treatment by county officials. The board has no authority to levy penalties, but will send a letter notifying his supervisor at the Department of Public Works about the violation.

“Once we get the official report from the Board of Ethics, we’ll certainly take a look at it,” said DPW Director Warren Lee, who was not at the hearing.

The ethics complaint was filed by Chris and Annette Pickens, who told the board that Northrop told them about their neighbor’s permit violations in May 2011, while on the Pickens’ property to inspect a grading violation against themselves.

“He violated our right to privacy,” Annette Pickens said.

Northrop also told the neighbor about the Pickens’ violation, and, while having coffee with the neighbors, apparently on county time, suggested they form a coalition with other neighbors against the Pickens because “they have no aloha,” according to the complaint.

“Here you have a county official going into a residential area to make an inspection. … He knows these people don’t like each other. … He goes into a home and has coffee, where he tells the other parties these people filed a complaint against them,” said board member Arne Henricks. “You discussed their business.”

Northrop, in a defense that was at times confrontational, told the Ethics Board that his actions were “a good cop, bad cop thing.” He said he was doing his job following up on grading violations and ensuring the Pickens’ swimming pool construction didn’t violate flood regulations.

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Northrop said he had known the other neighbors much longer than the Pickens, and that’s why he felt comfortable going in for coffee with them. Northrop didn’t deny the allegations, but when pressed further by Henricks, he refused to answer.

“That’s good enough for me,” Henricks replied.

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