HILO — The county Board of Ethics made quick work Monday agreeing that Kohala Councilman Tim Richards doesn’t have a conflict of interest voting on a vacation rental bill, even though he and his wife operate a vacation rental themselves.
The rental on the family’s Kahua Ranch property in Waimea, zoned agriculture, brought in between $50,000 and $100,000 last year, according to Richards’ amended financial disclosure.
Richards filed the amended report Feb. 12, the day West Hawaii Today and the Hawaii Tribune-Herald newspapers published an article about North Kona Councilwoman Karen Eoff’s failure to disclose her vacation rental income on her annual form. Richards’ original disclosure filed Jan. 31 did not list the rental income.
Eoff also filed an amended report after the article was published. Eoff, co-sponsor of Bill 108, also asked for an opinion and was cleared by the Ethics Board. Her vacation rental is in the Kailua-Kona resort district.
Bill 108 is an attempt to prohibit unhosted short-term rentals in residential and agricultural zones, while allowing them in hotel and resort zones. Existing rentals in good standing in the disallowed areas would be able to apply for a nonconforming use certificate that must be renewed annually for a $500 fee.
The financial disclosure reports, available to the public at the County Clerk’s Office, are an important component for Ethics Board member Rick Robinson.
“I think the disclosure on the financial statement is the most important part,” Robinson said. “You’re taking it one step farther. Not only did you disclose it on your financial disclosure, you came here before us.”
The board voted 3-0 to issue an informal advisory opinion finding no conflict of interest and advised Richards to submit a “full and complete public disclosure” in writing to the County Council.
Richards said he asked for the opinion because he believes the county should create regulations for vacation rentals and agri-tourism enterprises. He doesn’t want ethics questions to distract from that conversation, he said.
“I don’t want any misconceptions about what needs to be done. … I’m very sensitive to that,” Richards said.
Bill 108 comes back before the council Planning Committee at 1 p.m. today at the West Hawaii Civic Center, with videoconference available from the Hilo council chambers, Pahoa and Waimea council offices, Naalehu state office building and old Kohala courthouse.
Public testimony was completed after five hours of testimony April 24, so no new testimony will be taken today. But the public will still have plenty of opportunity to testify before the Leeward and Windward Planning commissions and two future hearings before the County Council, said Eoff, who is chairwoman of the Planning Committee.
“The meeting will be an opportunity for council members to continue discussing Bill 108, asking questions and looking at amendments,” Eoff said. “Although there will be no public testimony at the recessed meeting, there will be many other opportunities in the future for public testimony to the Planning Committee on Bill 108.”