Ethics Board gives Eoff green light

HILO — The county Board of Ethics on Monday unanimously gave North Kona Councilwoman Karen Eoff the go-ahead to sponsor a bill regulating vacation rentals.

That was the board’s role in the process.

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But Eoff still must disclose a possible conflict of interest and get a ruling from the council chairwoman, according to the county charter and council rules of procedure, said Corporation Counsel Joe Kamelamela.

However, he said, council members have an obligation to vote.

“The council members have to operate,” Kamelamela said. “But they have rules. … Rules regulate how government is going to operate.”

Ethics Board Vice Chairman Kenny Goodenow agreed with Kamelamela’s legal interpretation.

“As long as there’s disclosure, you can vote on anything,” Goodenow said. “The real point is you’re not really receiving a benefit.”

Also still pending is a possible formal complaint from a Seaview vacation rental operator who’s asking why Eoff didn’t declare her vacation rental income on financial disclosure forms. Eoff, saying she misunderstood what the form required, has subsequently filed amended financial disclosures for the past six years. In 2017, she had income between $10,000 and $50,000 on the condo unit, according to her amended disclosure.

The board’s decision came after Kamelamela, a member of Mayor Harry Kim’s Cabinet, a County Council colleague and a local vacation rental expert all testified on Eoff’s behalf. Kim was in the audience as the board came to its decision.

“The Mayor’s Office has held this vacation rental issue in high priority and we started working on this bill last year,” said Roy Takemoto, one of Kim’s executive assistants. “The bill as introduced, we would have introduced basically the same thing without much substantive difference from what was introduced.”

Takemoto said the administration asked Eoff and Kona Councilman Dru Kanuha to introduce it because it was such a hot issue in West Hawaii.

South Kona/Ka‘u Councilwoman Maile David also came to Eoff’s defense.

“The question is, whether Ms. Eoff is using her position as a council member to get special privileges, consideration, treatment or exemption beyond what is available to every other person,” David said. “I say no.”

Eoff, who owns a vacation rental unit in a zoning district that allows vacation rentals under Bill 108, had asked the Ethics Board if it would be a conflict of interest to sponsor the bill. Vacation rentals are currently not regulated under county law, although zoning regulations allow commercial uses in commercial and resort districts.

Eoff’s request for an advisory opinion came after a vacation rental owner in a zoning category that would be limited by the bill questioned her participation in the legislation.

“I don’t believe I violated any of the provisions of the code of ethics,” Eoff said. “I believe that I was acting within my legislative duties in taking on this bill.”

“I’ve learned a lot from this,” Eoff added, acknowledging she made some mistakes.

Rob Guzman, in a letter requesting the board investigate, questioned Eoff’s possible conflict of interest because the bill requires him, in an agricultural district, to pay $500 annually for the privilege of running a vacation rental, while those under her zoning would merely have to register.

Guzman also asked whether Eoff ran afoul of the ethics code when she misrepresented her vacation rental ownership in email exchanges with him and told him not to pursue his questions.

“She lied to me as a voter in Hawaii,” he told the board.

Eoff said the email response where she said, “I do not have — and have never had — a rental of any kind. … Please stop sending misinformation,” was written in haste from her cellphone when she saw that Guzman had copied his email to a number of top county officials and the media. She was in a meeting at the time and her response didn’t come out as planned, she said.

“I didn’t want the message to go any further,” she said about writing a quick response.

Board member Rick Robinson said it could be seen as an “unfair competitive advantage” for some vacation rental operators to have to pay a $500 annual fee while others did not. Noting that “perception is not reality,” Robinson still saw good reason for Guzman to have questions about the fee, the email response and the financial disclosures.

“I can understand why Mr. Guzman had his concerns and he brought them to the Ethics Board,” Robinson said.

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Guzman said after the meeting that he’s still deciding whether to pursue a formal complaint.

“It’s pretty clear where they all stand. No one wants to rule against their friend,” Guzman said. “They can simply fail to disclose … and say ‘I misunderstood.’ Go ahead and hide anything you want as long as you disclose it if you get caught.”

  1. KonaDude March 20, 2018 3:10 am

    What a joke this is. So lying and cheating is what it takes to be a councilman?


    1. Scooby March 20, 2018 4:12 am

      Deep rooted bias by Kamelamela or the appointed staff to whatever Harry Kim wants is disgusting. Harry Kim picked the weakest gullible council person, who can lie and get away with it, to introduce his bill while he sits in the dark making sure his people do as he says. One thing consistent is ole Kenny Goodenow.


      1. Bigislandfarmer March 20, 2018 3:38 pm

        Cementing his legacy as Corruption King Kim! A 19th century mind for a 21st century island. Such an embarrassment, especially after corrupt Kenoi who was at least somewhat competent.


  2. Chickie Galore March 20, 2018 7:09 am

    Karen is a crook. Plain, simple and in charge of part of a 352 million dollar budget? Wow. 500 a year to run a vacation rental on ag. Brilliant! That will pay for NOTHING except to line the politicians pockets. Oh, that didn’t come out right! “I never had a rental…”. Nope, not til you got into office you didn’t have squat.


  3. Bigislandfarmer March 20, 2018 7:23 am

    As usual, corruption wins! Maile David was the only fellow council member corrupt enough to stand up for lying, hiding $60,000+ in income, intimidation, and suppressing information from voters. Voters in her district should never forget this. Eoff lied to the board repeatedly in her testimony by mischaracterizing the contents of her bill regarding regulation of her rental, hosted rentals, and transfer of vacation rental licenses upon sale in areas outside of resort zones. You know those property tax bills you receive from the county, go ahead and misinterpret that they’re just a suggestion, rather than a requirement. Get pulled over, just declare you thought “speed limit” meant minimum speed. We’re supposed to believe that Eoff, who is Vice-Chair of the Finance committee and a small business owner of 35+ years, misunderstood the term “income” every year for 7 years? We’re supposed to believe she had a random memory lapse when she stated she’d never owned any rental of any kind? We’re supposed to believe there’s no benefit to her in banning the competition and/or charging them $500 per year to do what she’s doing with her vacation rental? Eoff’s filings show she has no mortgage on her vacation rental, yet somehow still maintains she’s never had a profit on it! Eoff provided no proof to the board that she’d ever paid taxes on her property at State or Federal levels, or even GE/TA taxes. They’re just supposed to take her word for it now, after her extensive record of dishonesty. The “Ethics” Board is made up of appointees of the Mayor who get approved by Council, rather than being a true check and balance on their corruption. Their lawyer worked closely with Eoff for years and a board member disclosed he’s so close to Ms. Eoff that he even has artwork she gave him in his home. This board stated essentially that no conflict of interest can ever exist, as long as it gets disclosed, even if that’s only after getting caught in a lie that’s front page news and one of the two major island newspaper’s editorial board calls for recusal over conflict of interest. This is your government, people. Vote accordingly!


    1. wutzhappn March 20, 2018 9:32 am

      I agree with you 100 percent. It’s outrageous that she continues to serve on the county council. The fact that Rick Robinson is on the ethics board tells me everything I need to know about the so-called ethics board. He is one of the most unethical people I have ever had the displeasure of dealing with in Kona.


  4. wutzhappn March 20, 2018 9:27 am

    This is laughable: “Eoff said the email response where she said, ‘I do not have — and have never had — a rental of any kind. … Please stop sending misinformation,’ was written in haste from her cellphone when she saw that Guzman had copied his email to a number of top county officials and the media. She was in a meeting at the time and her response didn’t come out as planned, she said.”

    Karen Eoff should resign now. It is a joke that the so-called ethics board found nothing unethical about her actions. Lying to a constituent about not owning a vacation rental is the very definition of unethical. Hiding her profits on her vacation rental is the very definition of unethical. Not disclosing her vacation rental income on the financial disclosure form is the very definition of unethical. Her “explanations” are bogus, lame and transparent. She is backtracking on every clear lie she wove in her tangled web.


  5. Kyle Jones March 20, 2018 9:46 am

    This is so f***ing corrupt. These are HORRIBLE excuses. She clearly lied outright to a voter, believing she would not get caught out. She says in no uncertain terms that she has never had a vacation rental when she in fact did. And I do not buy for a SECOND that she never made any profit on it. That is utter horseshit, as she has a rental agent for the property! This person is a liar and a crook, and she needs to be held accountable for her actions.

    Let’s not forget she is the primary driver behind a bill that benefits her personally and punishes middle class and working families from using their own property. And because everyone is friends with her, she can get away with it. Karen needs to be removed from office. We do not need more corrupt and unscrupulous individuals in government right now. GET HER OUT.


  6. Auntie Willa March 20, 2018 11:03 am

    Anyone who “misunderstands” something this basic is not qualified to be a councilperson.


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