Ethics Board to investigate Maunakea road blockade

  • Maunakea Access Road blockade is pictured in July. (Nancy Cook Lauer/West Hawaii Today)

  • Law enforcement officers stood by to disperse opponents of the Thirty Meter Telescope along Maunakea Access Road in July. (PHOTO BY CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL CRUSSELL/STARADVERTISER.COM)

HILO — Is it an ethics matter if some people break the law with apparent impunity while others get punished?

That’s the question the county Board of Ethics plans to tackle at its next meeting, with a resolution to investigate whether the ongoing blockade of Maunakea Access Road by protesters is allowed under the county ethics code. The board could, if it agrees to the resolution, call officials to testify on their actions or lack of action.

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The road has been blocked since mid-July by protesters, who call themselves “kia’i,” or “protectors,” opposed to construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on Maunakea. Protesters object primarily on environmental and religious grounds.

While 30 people were arrested early in the standoff and charged with misdemeanor obstruction of a government function, the road has remained closed, forcing the shuttering of tour companies and causing frustration to residents wishing to visit the mountain or the 13 telescopes on the mountain.

“Not all citizens of the county are being treated fairly because some citizens are allowed to violate the law and others are not,” said board member Larry Heintz. “They’re not enforcing the law … equally.”

Board member David Wiseman agreed.

“The laws shouldn’t be discriminately applied,” he said.

Board members brought the question up earlier this fall at a statewide ethics conference in Honolulu.

“They said it was an interesting and good question, but everybody ducked,” Heintz said.

Chairman Rick Robinson asked if the county Ethics Board could petition the state Ethics Commission to look into the issue. He was told by Deputy Corporation Counsel Malia Hall that board members could petition the commission as private citizens, but the board could not. The county board could, however, initiate its own resolution.

“There seems to be no adherence to the rule of law,” Robinson said.

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The county ethics code, in Section 2-38 under Fair Treatment, states, “All public property and equipment are to be treated as a public trust and are not to be used in a proprietary manner or for personal purposes without proper consent. … All persons shall be treated in a courteous, fair, and impartial manner.”

The board rarely initiates its own investigations, instead investigating complaints brought by residents. But it has the authority to do so.

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