Council kills larger Ethics Board, more council terms

HILO — Despite a continuing problem fielding enough members to vote on important issues, there will be no changes to the Board of Ethics this year. Nor will there be more than four consecutive terms for County Council members.

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HILO — Despite a continuing problem fielding enough members to vote on important issues, there will be no changes to the Board of Ethics this year. Nor will there be more than four consecutive terms for County Council members.

The County Council on Friday killed both proposed charter amendments, dispensing with them outright rather than sending them along to a third and final reading.

Both bills were sponsored by Kohala Councilwoman Margaret Wille.

Support for the Ethics Board measure, Bill 101, split along East Hawaii-West Hawaii lines, dying on a 5-4 vote. It required six votes to pass. Hilo Councilmen Dennis “Fresh” Onishi and Aaron Chung, and Puna Councilmen Greggor Ilagan and Daniel Paleka were the no votes.

Wille and the supporting council members pointed to the Ethics Board’s inability to get enough members to meet to decide pending issues as one reason the board should have more than five members. Helping drive that point home, the Ethics Board has cancelled its meeting originally scheduled for Monday.

Ethics Board Chairwoman Ku Kahakalau could not be reached for comment by press-time Friday. Vice Chairman Ken Goodenow declined comment.

Bill 101 would have increased the number of members to nine, with a board member selected from each council district. Members would have continued to be nominated by the mayor and confirmed by the council.

The bill also would have removed the requirement regarding political affiliation. Current law requires a balance of Republicans and Democrats. And, it would have required that meetings be held on both sides of the island. Meetings currently are held only in Hilo.

Proponents note that other counties’ ethics commissions have seven or nine members.

“I believe that five are too few to debate the ethics questions that come before them,” said North Kona Councilwoman Karen Eoff.

Opponents said any problems the Ethics Board has are due to their procedures, not their structure. Problems the board has had addressing ethics complaints against Mayor Billy Kenoi for his admitted misuses of his county purchasing card were exacerbated because the mayor is charged with appointing board members and filling vacancies.

Problems can be fixed without a charter amendment increasing the board membership, they said.

“It may not be working, but the system is not broken,” Chung said.

Bill 154, a charter amendment allowing council members to serve five consecutive two-year terms instead of four, died on a 0-9 vote when it became clear a majority opposed it.

Hawaii’s four counties handle council terms differently. Only Kauai has the same setup as Hawaii County, with four consecutive two-year terms. Honolulu council members can serve two consecutive four-year terms; Maui council members can serve five consecutive two-year terms.

Chung and Wille say council members need more time so they can focus on more long-term projects and fulfill their role as the policymaking body of the county. Eight years just isn’t enough time to tackle complex issues such as environmental waste solutions and big road projects, they say.

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But more council members said the measure could send the wrong message to the public. It’s better to let the Charter Commission — a body that meets every 10 years — handle the issue when it next meets, they said.

“I can’t get away from the idea that this might be self-serving at this point,” said South Kona/Ka‘u Councilwoman Maile David.

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