Planning Director Zendo Kern is seeking guidance from the Board of Ethics on potential conflicts of interest in his duties directing the operations of the Planning Department.
Kern, appointed to the position by Mayor Mitch Roth but not yet confirmed by the County Council, is scheduled to appear before the county Board of Ethics at 10 a.m. Wednesday. Kern is a former planning consultant, and some members of the public have expressed concerns that he will have conflicts when his former clients apply for permits or other considerations with his department.
“I requested to be on the agenda to be better safe than sorry,” Kern said Monday in a text message. “Just basic guidance from the board.”
Kern is asking for an informal advisory opinion.
Because Kern was out of state at the time, the council Planning Committee last week postponed his confirmation hearing, putting him two weeks behind the other appointees who are slated for their final hearing next week before the council. But his pending confirmation has drawn the most testimony of any of the nine nominees, with some testifiers concerned he lacks the experience outlined in the charter for the job, others that he’ll have too many conflicts of interest, while still others stood in his defense.
“Mr. Kern would be hampered in fulfilling the duties of planning director, since he would need to recuse himself from a number of projects that he worked on through his business,” said Mark Koppel in written testimony.
Supporters likened being a consultant to being a lawyer or in another profession that represents clients.
“The role of a consultant and the project itself has become unfairly blended,” said planning consultant Sidney Fuke. “Providing help for compensation — which is the nature of consultancy or any occupation — does not mean that you are the client and/or its project. If so, we would find many attorneys behind bars with their clients.”
The charter requires either a degree plus three years experience or five years experience, with three years experience in an “administrative capacity.” Kern’s resume lists eight years as a planning or project consultant. He’s also served as a County Council member, chairman of the Windward Planning Commission and a member of the county Water Board. He lists a high school degree, with his final two years as a home-schooled student.
The hearing, to be held in Hilo council chambers, will be closed to the public, but the public can testify at the beginning of the meeting and view the open parts of the proceedings via WebEx by registering with the board by noon today. To do so, contact Liza Osorio at Liza.Osorio@hawaiicounty.gov or call (808) 961-8251.
The Ethics Board is encouraging written testimony. To ensure timely delivery to board members prior to the meeting, written testimony must be submitted before noon today by email to Liza.Osorio@hawaiicounty.gov or fax to (808) 961-8622. All written testimony, regardless of time of receipt, will be part of the permanent record.