Ethics Board nominees confirmed

HILO — After months of canceled meetings, the Hawaii County Board of Ethics is at full strength again, following County Council confirmation Wednesday of two Kona nominees.

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HILO — After months of canceled meetings, the Hawaii County Board of Ethics is at full strength again, following County Council confirmation Wednesday of two Kona nominees.

The Ethics Board, which is supposed to meet monthly, has met only twice in the past eight months because it wasn’t able to get its three members together to form the required quorum for a vote.

A shortage of members on the board, coupled with a pending high-profile complaint against Mayor Billy Kenoi, has kept the pressure on the administration to fill the five-member panel. The complaint deals with Kenoi’s misuse of his county credit card, or pCard, at bars and for personal purchases.

The next Ethics Board meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 10.

The confirmation of G. Rick Robinson and Darnel “Pili” Kalele follows the withdrawal of another nominee after encountering resistance from the council last month. Hilo Councilmen Dennis “Fresh” Onishi and Aaron Chung questioned the involvement of Ethics Board Chairwoman Ku Kahakalau in recruiting and endorsing the new nominees.

“We want to eliminate the perception that this is now becoming a club that is being assembled,” Chung said Wednesday.

After questioning the nominees Wednesday, Onishi and Chung were satisfied that the candidates were not recruited by a sitting member of the Ethics Board. Both Robinson and Kalele were confirmed on 8-0 votes, with Chairman Dru Kanuha abstaining because there is a citizen complaint against him pending with the Ethics Board.

The council did receive a letter of endorsement for Robinson from Kahakalau, but he told the council he wasn’t recruited by her. He said he had just completed a five-year term on the Water Board, and looking at the list of available commissions, he thought his training as a hearings officer would come in handy on the Ethics Board.

“I chose ethics on my own initiative because I thought it is a board that needs some help,” Robinson said.

He served two terms on the Civil Service Commission, now the Merit Appeals Board. He is a member of the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival and Council, the Kona Soil and Water Conservation District and the Kona Farm Bureau, and said he’s not affiliated with any political party.

Kalele replaces nominee Josephine Ibarra of North Kona, who was apparently recruited by Kahakalau. Ibarra withdrew her nomination after questioning by the council.

Kalele is the volunteer coordinator for Habitat for Humanity of West Hawaii. A former volunteer with the Hawaii Food Basket, she stated in her application she is not affiliated with any political party.

She told the council she was born and raised in Kailua-Kona, ran barefoot through the streets and didn’t attend college until later in life.”

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The two West Hawaii nominees address concerns by the council and some members of the public that the Ethics Board had no West Hawaii representation.

The board handles ethics complaints from residents about public officials. It also provides advisory letters to public officials about ethics issues, such as whether they can take on outside jobs. And, it reviews annual gift disclosures and financial disclosures of a host of officials and county employees in certain positions.

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