HILO — County officials were still at a stalemate Tuesday, one week after Puna Councilwoman Jen Ruggles shocked fellow council members by announcing she will refrain from voting or sponsoring legislation because she feared she would be violating international law and committing war crimes against the Hawaiian Kingdom.
Council Chairwoman Valerie Poindexter on Tuesday met with Ruggles, following earlier meetings with Human Resources Director Bill Brilhante and Corporation Counsel Joe Kamelamela.
Ruggles maintains she’s still representing her district, even if she’s not voting.
Poindexter said no action was taken after her meeting with Ruggles and it’s unknown if the councilwoman will participate in meetings scheduled for next week.
“The bottom line is, I don’t have the authority,” Poindexter said. “She’s an elected official. I don’t have the authority to release her. … Her constituents have that authority.”
Kamelamela wrote Ruggles a four-sentence letter last week, assuring her she won’t violate laws by participating in council business.
“In response to your inquiry, we opine that you will not incur any criminal liability under state, federal and international law. See Article VI, Constitution of the United States of America (international law cannot violate federal law),” Kamelamela said in the Aug. 22 letter to Ruggles.
But that’s not enough for Ruggles, who wants more legal advice from Kamelamela before she makes a decision about her next step.
“She felt the response she received from Mr. Kamelamela was inadequate and is asking him for a proper legal opinion that meets the legal definition of assurance that she can continue to legislate. She says she is continuing to work in her community and assist in some of the recovery efforts,” Poindexter said.
Ruggles, reached for a comment, did not provide one by press time Tuesday.
In particular, Ruggles questioned whether she could participate in making laws, where the laws of the Hawaiian Kingdom must be administered and not the laws of the United States; whether she could collect taxes from protected persons where international law prohibited pillaging; whether she could be complicit in the foreclosures of properties of protected persons for delinquent property taxes where international law prohibits the confiscation of private property and whether she could be complicit in criminal prosecutions where protected persons are prohibited from being unlawfully confined and cannot be denied a fair and regular trial by a tribunal with competent jurisdiction.
Council rules require every council member to vote, unless the member has a stated conflict of interest and is excused by the chairman. Silence when votes are taken is considered a yes vote, under council rules.
There are several options to remove council members. Constituents can call for a recall election with a petition signed by 25 percent of the total valid votes in the past election. A council member can be impeached for malfeasance, misfeasance, nonfeasance or maladministration and a case presented in circuit court, based on a petition signed by 2 percent of the registered voters in the council district in the last general election.
Most of the 294 comments on Ruggles’ Aug. 21 announcement on her Facebook page are supportive, praising Ruggles for taking a stance on Hawaiian sovereignty.
“We Love You and your ‘stand up for what is right ’ in the face of all who pretend that they have the power,” said Carl Condit Green. “I know it is you who carries the Mana, the real Truth as Aloha, with transparency, clarity, and amazing open mindedness..Wow wow and Mahalo.”
A few questioned whether she was going to step down or give up her $70,000 annual salary if she felt she could no longer represent her constituents on the council.
“Well if you are not going to do the job you were elected to, that’s your choice but you shouldn’t be accepting a paycheck either,” said Frannie Pueo. “Step down let the new elected person for district 5 take over. Our district needs representation.”
Hilo Councilman Aaron Chung brought the issue up again Aug. 22, the day after Ruggles made her surprise announcement, asking if the county can withhold her paycheck until she comes back to represent her district by voting on the council.
“We have a fiduciary duty to the taxpayers of this county,” Chung said.
As Ruggles had dropped out of her re-election race, any vacancy in office would last only until Dec. 3, when new council members are sworn in. Under the county charter, the remaining council members must appoint a successor within 60 days or the council chairman must appoint one. The appointment is for the remainder of the council term.
The council can also remove a member if three impartial, licensed physicians selected by a majority vote of the council determine the council member is mentally or physically infirm or disabled and will be unable to discharge his or her duties for the remainder of the term, under the charter.