HILO — Freebies from sister cities topped County Council members’ gift disclosures this year, with councilors also reporting peanuts, rodeo tickets and travel on their annual forms.
Gift disclosure forms are required to be filed by June 30 each year, according to county code. County officials are required to report gifts valued at more than $100 from a single source. But some council members reported smaller gifts as well, in order to be on the safe side.
Officials are barred from accepting a gift of any amount when “it can reasonably be inferred that the gift is intended to influence the officer or employee in the performance of the officer’s or employee’s official duties or is intended as a reward for any official action on the officer’s or employee’s part,” under the code.
Hilo Councilman Aaron Chung reported receiving two $110 tickets from the Daniel Sayre Memorial Foundation for the group’s awards dinner as well as 10 tickets to the Panaewa Stampede Rodeo valued at $8 each from Hawaii Horse Owners Inc.
In his June 14 gift disclosure, Chung also reported a Sakada wooden plaque of unknown value given to him by the mayor of Cabugao, Philippines, a Hawaii County sister city.
Sister city functions dominated two other council members’ gift disclosures as well.
Council Chairwoman Valerie Poindexter reported $900 worth of hotel and ground transportation received from the government of Shibukawa, Japan, and $600 in hotel and ground transportation from the municipality of Cabugao on the signing of a sister city agreement. Her report was dated June 4.
Poindexter said the cities offered to help defray council expenses for the trip.
“It is important to foster our international understanding, friendship and encourage exchange of education and culture through sister city relationships that help support tourism and trade,” Poindexter said. “Now more than ever, we need to let our sister cities know that Hawaii is a safe place to visit and encourage them to come. Such visits support our local economy mainly at the grassroots level; and re-cement our relationships as an immigrant island.”
Puna Councilwoman Eileen O’Hara also reported $600 in hotel and ground transportation during the February sister city celebration in Cabugao. In addition, her report Friday listed $40 worth of peanuts from lobbyist Sidney Fuke and $80 worth of rodeo tickets from the Hawaii Horseowners Association.
Puna Councilwoman Jen Ruggles reported gifts of $219.37 and $248.69 on separate occasions from the Center for Food Safety, an advocacy group lobbying for organic food production and against industrial farming models. Ruggles used the money for lobbying activities promoting SB 3095, creating a pesticide buffer zone and banning pesticides containing chlorpyrifos, according to her report.
Both O’Hara’s and Ruggles’ reports were dated Friday, the day West Hawaii Today requested the records. O’Hara said she had a question about the value of the sister city gift, and didn’t get an answer until Friday. Ruggles could not be reached for comment.
Kohala Councilman Tim Richards reported one gift for the 2017-18 fiscal year: the $200 registration fee from the Hawaii Cattlemen’s Association for its annual banquet. He submitted his gift disclosure June 29.
North Kona Councilwoman Karen Eoff and South Kona/Ka‘u Councilwoman Maile David reported no gifts worth more than $100 for the fiscal year.
Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy reported only one gift: a Hawaiian floral wreath from Bobby Jean Leithead Todd, a former councilwoman and longtime agency head who retired last year. Lee Loy valued the wreath at $150, in her June 26 report.
“I personally have made wreaths like this and the amount of work to gather, clean and create these wreaths is truly a labor of love and simply priceless,” Lee Loy said. “It was hard to put a price tag on this amount of aloha.”
Leithead Todd said Lee Loy was an aide when Leithead Todd was legislative auditor in 1993 and 1994. She said her wreaths take about 14 hours to make, not counting traipsing through the forests for the plant materials, so she rotates them among friends each year, in addition to donating a few to silent auctions for charity.