Ethics Board to hear Eoff conflict of interest case

HILO — A bill regulating vacation rentals has been pulled from consideration until the Board of Ethics can determine whether North Kona Councilwoman Karen Eoff has a conflict of interest in co-sponsoring it.

The county Ethics Board, which next meets March 19, will likely consider Eoff’s request for an opinion as well as a complaint from vacation rental owner Rob Guzman.

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In a letter Tuesday to the council, Eoff asked that Bill 108 be withheld from referral to a committee until after the Ethics Board rules on any conflict of interest. The bill was originally scheduled to be heard Feb. 20.

“As a duly elected councilperson, with a responsibility to address the issues important to my constituents, I take this responsibility very seriously,” Eoff said in a statement to the newspaper Wednesday. “When concerns were raised about my role regarding Bill 108, I took immediate and proper measures to address those concerns.

“I would prefer not to comment any further until the Board of Ethics has reviewed my petition,” she added.

Guzman’s complaint addresses the conflict of interest question as well as whether Eoff ran afoul of the ethics code when she misrepresented her ownership of a vacation rental condo in email exchanges with him and told him not to pursue his questions. He also questioned why her annual financial disclosure report did not include income from the condo unit.

“I am writing today to request an investigation into Councilwoman Karen Eoff given her various recent actions regarding Bill No. 108, which include lying to a voter about her ownership of a rental property, pressuring a voter not to share information, and failing to disclose income from this property on a form required of her in her position as an elected official,” Guzman said in a letter Tuesday to the Ethics Board.

A Feb. 8 email conversation between Eoff and Guzman, copied to newspaper reporters, showed Eoff at first denied she had a vacation rental. Guzman was pressing Eoff to explain why she shouldn’t recuse herself from the legislation because of her own property holdings.

“I do not have — and have never had — a rental of any kind,” Eoff said in the email. “Please stop sending misinformation.”

When confronted with the record of her transient accommodations tax license, she backed off that assertion, saying she misunderstood.

Kona Councilman Dru Kanuha, the other co-sponsor of the bill, said Wednesday he supports holding the bill back until the ethics questions are resolved.

“I think it’s a great opportunity to discuss this with the public who will be affected by this bill and see other options and ways to improve it,” Kanuha said.

Bill 108 would require existing transient vacation rentals outside of the Vacation District, the General Commercial District or Resort Nodes to apply for a nonconforming use certificate in order to be grandfathered in.

Those in the allowed districts, such as Eoff, would be required to register with the county, but they don’t have to apply to the Planning Department for a nonconforming use permit.

While many vacation rental operators and real estate agents are up in arms about limiting rental activity in residential and agriculture zones, other residents in neighborhoods being overtaken by vacation rentals hope to see a solution.

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There were 4,500 Big Island listings on AirBnB/VRBO/HomeAway.com on Wednesday, according to Leleiwi resident Stefan Buchta, who’s compiling data for a presentation to the County Council. Buchta worries that the bigger picture is being lost in the controversy over Eoff’s possible conflict of interest.

“At the current growth rate, there will be 10,000 short-term rentals on our island next year,” Buchta said in an email. “Bill 108 is not perfect, but it is the best thing we have to put a band-aid on the problem and stop the bleeding. Please let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater!”

  1. KonaDude February 15, 2018 3:48 am

    Public officials misrepresenting her ownership and falsely filling out her financial disclosure seem to be big picture things as well. If we keep voting people like this to office our problems will never go away and we will be taxed to death to pay for their corruptness!


    1. CongressWorksForUs February 15, 2018 12:02 pm

      Actually, depending on how it’s rented and/or qualified, and more specifically her agreement with whomever is managing the property, she may well not have falsely filled out her financial disclosures. The amount paid to her property manager by whomever may or may not be renting it is not necessarily her gross income at all. Wouldn’t be an unusual case either. Not trying to be argumentative but whatever the deal is, the ethics board will know for sure. Until then, its perhaps best not to level accusations against her without knowing all the facts.


      1. CongressWorksForUs February 15, 2018 12:02 pm

        That said, if she’s lying through her teeth she needs kicked out of office.


        1. KonaDude February 16, 2018 9:30 am

          Either way, she’s lying or can’t manager a single vacation rental, I don’t think she is the person we need sponsoring bills and spending our tax dollars.


      2. BustaBeeBee February 15, 2018 2:16 pm

        Yeahhhh it is still MONEY EARNED. I don’t get to deduct all my costs and then pay my GE and TAT. It doesn’t work like that.


  2. Rusty Da Clown February 15, 2018 6:25 am

    If Eoff owned a rental in a place it shouldn’t be, I can see how this is a problem. But she owns a rental in a place it should be, in a resort zone. Sounds like Guzman is salty that the county is gonna shine a light on his illegal rental.


    1. KonaDude February 15, 2018 7:01 am

      You should re-read the article. Or you are saying it’s ok for our elected officials to misrepresent their ownership and falsely fill her financial disclosure in which case you are one of the problem voters that perpetuate these issues.


  3. wahineilikea February 15, 2018 8:44 am

    Well, maybe the bill will come back better, but it does need to come back. The issues regarding Karen Eoff and the ethics complaint need to be divided from the very real and important issues that the bill is attempting to address. One change I hope they make is that ridiculous idea of “grandfathering” all the illegal rentals that have been paying some of the taxes due. Why reward lawbreakers? Let’s clarify the enforcement of existing law – vacation rentals are NOT allowed in residential and agricultural districts without a nonconforming use special permit, so let’s figure out an efficient way to shut them all down. Those of us who aren’t operating illegal businesses in areas not zoned for it would be very grateful to the county for actually enforcing the law and restoring the integrity of our neighborhoods – many of us do not appreciate being forced to live in an area full of illegal mini-hotels. If we had wanted to live in a resort zone, we would have bought homes there!


    1. Buds4All February 15, 2018 12:43 pm

      Why reward lawbreakers…..? That is a very good question. Lets start at the Federal and State level politicians who want to let illegal immigrants stay in this country? The example is set from the top down and it stinks. A will we have to set up another city/state government agency to police this? Stop creating more government!


      1. wahineilikea February 15, 2018 2:03 pm

        LOL so your solution to crime is just to stop enforcing the law? We have a car theft epidemic on the island – your solution would be less government/less enforcement? Just let ’em steal those cars! What about the horrible DUI problem? Right, less government and less enforcement. Who cares how it affects innocent people! Hmmmm.

        Somehow I don’t think that’s a very mature or reasonable way to deal with our island’s problems.


        1. Buds4All February 15, 2018 5:14 pm

          Well if you were educated you would realize that’s not what I said. Law Enforcement are not the same a politicians. I never mentioned not enforcing DUI and or auto theft, bot of which I do not fond of. And I am not sure what your second statement is about. You seem like a very angry person. You should seek help.


          1. wahineilikea February 15, 2018 5:24 pm

            And all the bill is doing is creating more clear enforcement of existing law – not making new laws, not making new politicians, not making “more government.” It’s all about more enforcement.


          2. Buds4All February 15, 2018 5:26 pm

            Get yourself some help.


    2. BustaBeeBee February 15, 2018 2:15 pm

      Maybe it is a problem for Kona, it isn’t for Hilo. The only thing destroying the integrity of our neighborhoods over on THIS side of the island are squatters, long term dead beat tenants who don’t care about the neighborhood, and drug dealers. I WISH we had more vacation rentals on our street.


  4. Matthew J Cintas February 15, 2018 9:25 am

    that is nothing compared to Kohanaiki resort building a home for their “cultural advisor” Reggie Lee’s mother without any SMA OR BUILDING permits .. Payoff to keep him quiet about the resort adding guppies to the anchialine ponds to ensure guests won’t get bitten by a mosquito. too bad for the endemic Opae Ula that is now totally displaced from every pond except for one far south near kaloko ponds that the resort collapsed the lava tube connection . Thanks Eh for watching our communities backs


  5. Kamahana February 15, 2018 4:45 pm

    Nothing built with a foundation, infrastructure, culture, and agency of injustice (State of Hawaii) can produce justice, accountability, equality, nor democracy. Therefore the the prolonged 125 year, present state of Hawaii in non-accountability and continued creative-lawfulness (aka belligerence) imbued throughout Hawaii’s “governing” entities.

    Instead of “governing entities” we have semi-automatic armed “Land and Natural Resources” militias and audits with no reasonable repercussions for laundering and other crimes. LIKE THIS:

    Councilwoman Karen Eoff: When concerns were raised about my role regarding Bill 108, I took immediate and proper measures to address those concerns.

    “I would prefer not to comment any further until the Board of Ethics has reviewed my petition,” she added.

    Voter Rob Guzman’s complaint addresses the conflict of interest question as well as whether Eoff ran afoul of the ethics code when she misrepresented her ownership of a vacation rental condo in email exchanges with him and told him not to pursue his questions. He also questioned why her annual financial disclosure report did not include income from the condo unit.

    “I am writing today to request an investigation into Councilwoman Karen Eoff given her various recent actions regarding Bill No. 108, which include lying to a voter about her ownership of a rental property, pressuring a voter not to share information, and failing to disclose income from this property on a form required of her in her position as an elected official,” Guzman said in a letter Tuesday to the Ethics Board.

    A Feb. 8 email conversation between Eoff and Guzman, copied to newspaper reporters, showed Eoff at first denied she had a vacation rental. Guzman was pressing Eoff to explain why she shouldn’t recuse herself from the legislation because of her own property holdings.

    “I do not have — and have never had — a rental of any kind,” Eoff said in the email. “Please stop sending misinformation.”

    When confronted with the record of her transient accommodations tax license, she backed off that assertion, saying she misunderstood.

    Kona Councilman Dru Kanuha, the other co-sponsor of the bill, said Wednesday he supports holding the bill back until the ethics questions are resolved.


  6. Pest Outwest February 16, 2018 10:13 am

    “which include lying to a voter about her ownership of a rental property”

    That should be enough to remove her from office, an outright lie, with no apology or anything. Misunderstood . . . what? How to tell the truth?


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