A Kailua-Kona business owner has filed an ethics complaint against Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy, alleging she has a conflict of interest in voting on recent construction code measures because her daughter works for HPM Building Supply, which could benefit from provisions streamlining inspections of factory built housing.
Joe Belisario, owner of Hawaii Design Group, a degreed draftsman and end user of building codes, alerted the County Council during testimony Wednesday that he filed an ethics complaint that will “directly impact” Bill 44, a rewrite of the county construction code.
“It may be, I think, a good point of order to postpone Bill 44, if not kill it,” Belisario said before the council took up the bill on its final reading.
The council passed the bill on a 5-2 vote, with Kona Councilwoman Rebecca Villegas and Puna Councilman Matt Kanealii-Kleinfelder voting no. Kohala Councilman Tim Richards and Hilo Councilman Aaron Chung were absent for the vote as the meeting dragged into the evening hours.
Villegas unsuccessfully brought up amendments to the bill that would, among other things, require onsite inspections of the prebuilt homes in addition to inspections at the factory. Proponents of the amendments, which included a number of carpenters unions and contractors, say it will not only create a level playing field with conventional construction, but also increase safety for the homeowner.
“This is to ensure the health and safety of people who will live in factory built homes,” Villegas said. “There’s no intention to eliminate factory built homes.”
Lee Loy characterized the complaint as an attempt at “political leverage.”
Her daughter, Ashley Kapua Aguiar, 32, is senior kitchen and bath designer at HPM, which has an employee stock ownership plan where employees own 100% of the HPM stock.
Aguiar is also Lee Loy’s campaign treasurer, according to documents filed with the state Campaign Spending Commission. Lee Loy said her daughter doesn’t live with her and the councilwoman doesn’t receive any financial gain from her relationship.
Lee Loy didn’t disclose her relationship with her daughter during discussions of the bill and amendments that directly impact HPM, as the only factory home builder on the island. Lee Loy said she assumed people knew.
“I’ve never kept a secret of where she’s employed,” Lee Loy said Thursday. “I’ve actually shared on many occasions at the council about my kids. … I’m a proud mama bear. They’re great kids.”
Belisario cites the county charter, the ethics code and the council’s rules and procedures as justification for requiring her to disclose a conflict and refrain from voting.
The council rules define financial interest as an interest held by a council member, his or her spouse, domestic partner, children, siblings, parents, grandparents, or grandchildren. The ethics code, in contrast, defines financial interest as an interest held by an individual, the individual’s spouse, or dependent children.
“Councilmember Sue Leeloy had a substantial financial and/or personal interest on matters before the council, and to my knowledge, failed to disclose and/or refrain from deliberating on these matters prior to taking an official vote,” Belisario said in the petition, a copy of which was obtained by West Hawaii Today.
In his complaint, Belisario cites the portion of the ethics code that states, “Notwithstanding any other disclosures filed under this section, it shall be incumbent upon all employees or officers of the County to make a full disclosure in writing to their appointing authority or to the council in the case of an elective officer, whenever the employee or officer possesses or acquires any interests, financial or otherwise, that might reasonably tend to create a conflict with the public interest in the performance of the public duties and responsibilities of the officer or employee. Any member of the council who knows he or she has a personal interest, direct or indirect, in any action proposed or pending before the council shall immediately disclose such interest. A copy of any disclosure of interest filed under this subsection shall be filed by the employee or officer with the County clerk which shall be a matter of public record.”
Belisario also said Lee Loy should step down as chairwoman of the council Committee on Public Works and Mass Transit, which handles bills submitted by the Department of Public Works, because of a possible conflict of interest. Lee Loy’s husband, Ian Lee Loy, entered a no contest plea last year to misdemeanor harassment for a July 25, 2019, assault on Neal Tanaka, the county Building Division’s acting deputy chief. The councilwoman denied in a text message to police in court records that she had a relationship with Tanaka.
The Board of Ethics will likely take up the issue at its next meeting, scheduled for Sept. 13.