Board: Nonresponsiveness is not an ethics violation
A non-response from government officials to emails and telephone calls isn’t necessarily a violation of the ethics code, the county Board of Ethics said Wednesday in denying a resident’s call to penalize 14 top officials for ignoring his warnings about what he saw as the danger of face masks and vaccines during the coronavirus pandemic.
Roger Christie filed the petition against Mayor Mitch Roth, two of his top staff, all nine members of the County Council and the former police chief and deputy chief, alleging violations of the part of the ethics code requiring officials to treat all persons in a “courteous, fair and impartial manner.”
Christie, a minister and advocate for cannabis legalization, said his communications with county officials during the 1980s were met with return calls, meetings and even scheduling on County Council agendas. These days, he said, they’re met with silence.
“The ‘silent treatment’ has apparently become an unacceptable new policy that has led to broken trust and a lack of confidence in the integrity of our county government during the single most challenging event in our lifetimes, the COVID-19 ‘pandemic,’” Christie said in his complaint. “Ignoring my repeated communications and those of others has allowed the destructive and encroaching medical/government tyranny to continue unabated and unexamined. This must be corrected.”
Eleven testifiers, most espousing theories about why they oppose masks and vaccines, backed Christie’s view.
“People had some critical and time sensitive information to bring forth and they were promptly ignored,” said John Stern. “Right or wrong the voice of the people should always be heard.”
Several council members responding to the complaint offered reasons for not responding to some of the many emails they receive on a daily basis, especially when they’re mass emailings addressed to the entire council.
Hilo Councilman Aaron Chung said he respected Christie’s opinion but he doesn’t subscribe to it. Chung, wearing a face mask at the testifier’s table, said he devoted many weekends volunteering at vaccine clinics. He’s long made it a practice not to respond to group texts with other council members out of concern about violating the Sunshine Law, he said.
“This is a matter of perspective, and I’ve got to say, I don’t share the perspective that Roger Christie is advancing,” Chung said. “If merely not responding to an email is a violation of the code of ethics, then — guilty as charged.”
Council Chairwoman Maile David, South Kona/Ka‘u, said she doesn’t recall an email from Christie asking to put anything on the council agenda. If she had, she said, she would have advised him to contact his council representative, as agenda items can be added only by them.
“Freedom is a two-way street,” David said. “As much as Mr. Christie feels he has these rights, so does everyone else.”
The board voted unanimously to deny Christie’s petition with prejudice, noting that Christie said he has spoken with Council Chairwoman-elect Heather Kimball, who reportedly has indicated she would help him.
“There is another option and it seems the respondents have made reasonable responses based on what they provided,” said board member Denise Nakanishi.