The Board of Ethics unanimously cleared five County Council members of wrongdoing Monday following two complaints on unrelated issues.
Four council members — North Kona Councilman Holeka Inaba, Kona Councilwoman Rebecca Villegas, South Kona/Ka‘u Councilwoman Maile David and Puna Councilman Matt Kanealii-Kleinfelder —were found not to have violated any ethics policies when they voted not to confirm Dana Asis to the Leeward Planning Commission.
Asis had filed the ethics complaint saying she was discriminated against because she’s a real estate professional.
In addition, Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy was found not to be in violation when she didn’t disclose that her adult daughter works for HPM Building Supply when she voted on changes to the county construction code regulating factory built housing.
The complaint was filed by Joe Belisario, owner of Hawaii Design Group, a degreed draftsman and end user of building codes, who also made several allegations about Lee Loy’s personal life.
The two cases inspired board member Kelly Valenzuela, a Kona Realtor who’s also run unsuccessfully for political office, to lament the lack of civility surrounding politics.
“What’s very disheartening and sad is we’re living at a time right now where mudslinging is just an everyday thing,” Valenzuela said. “We in Hawaii, we talk about the spirit of aloha … Be kind to one another, respect one another. … We should lead in the spirit that we proclaim to have.”
In the Asis case, the ethics board agreed with David, who said as council chairwoman, she cherished the separation of power between the mayor, who nominates candidates for boards and commissions and the council, empowered to confirm the candidates.
“I’m really sorry for this chain of events,” David said, “but for me, the authority of this council and the authority of the administration is very clear. … It was our authority to make decisions and the decision is ours to make.”
Asis questioned why the council’s preliminary vote at the committee level was 8-0 in her favor, yet the council subsequently voted 5-4 to reject her nomination. She said it seemed part of a pattern of certain council members discriminating against real estate professionals and developers, while the county charter requires no one to be denied positions of boards and commissions based strictly on occupation.
“It doesn’t seem like it was a fair vote,” she said.
But ethics board Chairman David Wiseman said the council has the prerogative to reject nominations.
“We cannot second-guess a council member’s decision on voting affirmative or negative,” Wiseman said. “They don’t even need a reason for voting yes or no. … The only requirement is it must be consistent with any statute or law.”
In the Lee Loy case, Belisario said Lee Loy was required to disclose her relationships, but did not do so.
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.
“Disclosure of interest — Its’ a requirement of law and it did not happen,” Belisario said.
Several board members advised that disclosure is always the best policy, even when it’s not legally required.
“The daughter is independent working as an adult in a job and I just don’t see any connection at all. .. you can’t expect a council member to dictate where their kids can and cannot work,” said board member Amy Self.
Still, Self said, there are provisions in law that require council members to disclose any direct or indirect interest in issues coming before the council.
“To me, I would probably disclose even if it was my fourth cousin,” Self said. “Disclose, disclose, disclose.”