HILO — County Council members reported gifts ranging from a $100 Southwest Airlines card to a trip to Portugal in their most recent gift disclosures.
Only three of the nine County Council members filed annual gift disclosures by the June 30 deadline.
Reporting gifts annually is a requirement of the county code. County officials must report gifts valued at more than $100 from a single source. There’s no need to file the report if that condition isn’t met.
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.
Two council members, Kona Councilwoman Rebecca Villegas and Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy, reported receiving gifts from Southwest Airlines at a March 19 reception for dignitaries celebrating the airline’s entrance into the Kona market. About 200 people attended, Villegas said.
“It was kind of like attending a party and receiving a party favor at the door,” Villegas said. “I was very surprised they were that generous.”
Lee Loy reported about $275 in “dinner, gift cards, swag,” while Villegas reported the $100 gift card.
“It’s an ethical line,” said Lee Loy, who said she attended at the request of Council Chairman Aaron Chung as his representative. “We have to report anything in excess of $100.”
Lee Loy also reported $825 worth of hotel stays from July 30 to Aug. 4 when she visited Hilo’s sister city of Shibukawa, Japan, paid by the city.
Hamakua Councilwoman Valerie Poindexter received the largest gift, $2,800 round-trip flight, hotel and ground transportation from April 24 to May 5 paid by the Arts and Humanities Department of the University of Medeira, in Funchal, Portugal. Poindexter said she checked with Chung and Corporation Counsel Joe Kamelamela before accepting the trip.
Poindexter, whose great grandparents immigrated to Hawaii from that town as plantation workers, said she’d been interviewed for a documentary of Portuguese in Hawaii, and she went to Funchal to attend the premiere of the film. Poindexter said she’s involved in creating a student exchange program there with the University of Hawaii at Hilo, and also is exploring a sister-city and even sister-state relationship.
“It was really emotional for me. It felt like I was coming home. That was my roots,” said Poindexter, who had never before visited. “It reminded me of our area in Hamakua: hilly, still growing sugarcane. It took me back in time.”
North Kona Councilwoman Karen Eoff and South Kona/Ka‘u Councilwoman Maile David said they filed late disclosures Tuesday, reporting $110 tickets from the Daniel R. Sayre Memorial Foundation for the group’s awards dinner. They hadn’t been aware the tickets were more than $100, they said.
Eoff said she’d always thought she’d paid for her own ticket, but the money was recorded as a donation, rather than the ticket price.
Aides to Kohala Councilman Tim Richards and Chung, as well as Puna Councilman Matt Kanealii-Kleinfelder and Puna Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz said they had no gifts over $100 to report.