Ethics complaint targets Kenoi, Finance Department

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A West Hawaii man filed an ethics complaint Monday against Mayor Billy Kenoi and Finance Director Deanna Sako, saying both should be removed from office for his misuse of a county credit card and her complicity in it.

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A West Hawaii man filed an ethics complaint Monday against Mayor Billy Kenoi and Finance Director Deanna Sako, saying both should be removed from office for his misuse of a county credit card and her complicity in it.

Kapaau resident Lanric Hyland, in his petition, charges that Kenoi violated the county ethics code provision prohibiting county officials and employees from using their official positions “to secure special privileges, consideration, treatment or exemption to themselves or any person beyond which is available to every other person.”

“An inadvertent mistake of using the pCard once a year or so may simply be a forgivable oversight, but $22,000-plus over a period of years simply shows an arrogant and disgusting disregard of the law and of the ‘highest standard of ethical conduct’,” Hyland said, quoting from the ethics code.

Sako should be fired, Hyland said, “as a warning to other county employees to not be willing to look the other way.”

“When a county employee knows of wrongdoing, they must be willing to act in a principled manner to protect the taxpayers and citizens of Hawaii County. It took her months to do this,” Hyland added.

The county Board of Ethics is just one of several investigative agencies looking into Kenoi’s use of the county credit card. He’s said he’ll cooperate with any investigation.

Sako said Monday that former Finance Director Nancy Crawford had warned Kenoi about personal charges on his account sometime in 2013. She said she believed the personal charges stopped after that.

Sako assumed the directorship in early January after Crawford’s retirement. The county Board of Ethics has previously determined it had no jurisdiction over officials once they leave office.

In addition, Hyland said, Kenoi, Sako and Crawford violated the county ethics code provision requiring that all people be treated in a “courteous, fair and impartial manner,” as well as the state Uniform Information Practices Act when they thwarted West Hawaii Today’s repeated attempts to obtain credit card statements that are public records under Hawaii law.

The newspaper had submitted seven requests for statements of the county credit cards, known as pCards, between December 2009 and March of this year. The county responded to the first few requests with summaries rather than the actual statements and delayed responding to later requests.

It wasn’t until the newspaper, obtaining one month’s statement from an alternate source, broke the story about Kenoi using his pCard for personal expenses, that the county released the records last week.

The records were embarrassing to Kenoi, showing pricey personal charges ranging from $892 in one day at a Honolulu hostess bar, to a $1,200 surfboard and a bevy of big-bucks charges at other bars and restaurants. Kenoi generally paid the charges back within days, or sometimes months. But he paid an additional $7,500 last week on charges going back as far as 2009.

County pCard policies prohibit personal charges on the county cards, and allow charges for alcohol only under certain circumstances.

Ku Kahakalau, acting chairwoman of the county Board of Ethics, said she had not yet seen the complaint. She said the board will look into Hyland’s petition, but it could also initiate its own investigation, if the board feels it’s warranted.

“It could be something we could consider one way or the other,” Kahakalau said. “With or without a petition, we have a chance to put it on the agenda.”

Attorney General Doug Chin said Monday that his office is awaiting a request sent by Hawaii County Prosecutor Mitch Roth, asking his office to look into whether any criminal charges are warranted. Roth has said he wanted the investigation to be more arms-length than being conducted by another county agency such as his office.

Chin said his office could conduct its investigation into allegations of criminal wrongdoing at the same time that the Board of Ethics and the county’s legislative auditor look into any administrative breaches.

“Because this goes back so many years, it raises a good question whether it was just the standard practice or was something exceptional,” Chin said. “Not that the fact that it was standard practice made it OK.”

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County Auditor Bonnie Nims made an audit of county pCards one of her first projects when she started working for the county in May. She anticipates it being completed in the next few months, but she said the recent media attention won’t fast-track the process.

“We have standards we have to adhere to,” Nims said. “We can’t rush anything out unless the standards are met.”

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