WHT editorial: Puna councilwoman should leave now

HILO — Enough already.

Even though it’s only been a week since Puna Councilwoman Jen Ruggles stunned her colleagues by announcing she will refrain from voting or sponsoring legislation because she fears she would be violating international law and committing war crimes against the Hawaiian Kingdom, that’s a week too long to waste on nonsense.

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Ruggles should step down now — yesterday, even, we’d prefer. There’s no time to waste on a seat-filler during such a perilous time for the island.

We’d expect Ruggles to know that. It’s her district that was hit by Pele’s lava and flooding from Hurricane Lane. Officials are scrambling to call a special session with the state Legislature to ask for $800 million in emergency funds to pump life into the decimated area again. Oh, and let’s not forget Miram and Norman — already Category 1 hurricanes that are gaining strength this week as they hover around 1,000 miles out from Hilo, inching closer every day.

It’s no time to play games. But, sadly, Ruggles — who once introduced a nonbinding resolution declaring Puna is picked on, which was killed by her colleagues — is doing just that.

After nearly two years on the council, Ruggles about-faced.

She suddenly questions 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.

Assuming Ruggles intentions are pure — and that’s a big assumption for us — if she truly is following her heart and worried about legal ramifications someday, in some court somewhere, then she shouldn’t take any risk and jump ship now.

She should get out while she still can. Wipe her hands of this entire United States government mess. If she doesn’t, it’s the height of grandstanding.

Because this much is certain — the long-established legislative branch of Hawaii’s government isn’t going anywhere. And voting as an elected official isn’t a crime now, nor will it be way off into whatever future Ruggles concocts.

The fact that Corporation Counsel Joe Kamelamela had to spell it out to the councilwoman in a letter is a morbidly funny detail in what is an absolutely depressing story.

“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.

Thankfully, the first-term councilwoman isn’t running for re-election and will surrender her seat Dec. 3.

There are options to remove her before then — time consuming, but ones that should be pursued to make an example out of this utter exercise in futility.

One option is constituents calling for a recall election with a petition signed by 25 percent of the total valid votes in the past election. It’s a long process as petitions are given specific time frame outlines, but so what?

A council member can also 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.

Maladministration by definition is “inefficient or dishonest administration; mismanagement.”

Bingo.

During the 2016 general election, there were 11,911 registered voters in Ruggles’ County Council District 5. So it would require 239 signatures to get it before a court.

Ruggles was elected to represent her District 5 and collects a $70,000 salary to do so. Her new platform — soapbox — isn’t the one on which she ran for election. In fact, it wasn’t even addressed on the 2016 campaign where she went on to win with 49.7 percent of the vote, 1,921, to Danny Paleka’s 1,632.

Letting Ruggles term expire quietly isn’t the answer. It would set a terrible precedent for anyone looking to pull the same stunt. Worse, a copycat could pull it with more time left in their term, which would be a more prolonged distraction from serious matters.

Doubtful are we that Ruggles believes legal ramifications could come her way for violating Kingdom of Hawaii rights. Puzzling still, if she really believed it, by voting on previous measures, she’s already violated the law, so she’s a criminal already. If that’s the case, why not use the same seat she committed the alleged crime to help her people in Puna?

Really, what is her motivation here?

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We think the councilwoman who championed no noteworthy legislation during her term won’t step away to pursue the cause in a more proper venue. Rather, we think she wants to milk the limelight while her colleagues are stuck doing the grownup work.

What a shame.