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Ethics Board: Candidate can keep job

April 10, 2014 - 12:05am

Maile David can keep her position as deputy county clerk while running for the County Council, the Board of Ethics voted Wednesday after hearing about certain “shields” that have been put into place to protect the integrity of the election.

David has pulled papers for council District 6, currently represented by the term-limited Brenda Ford. The district covers South Kona and Ka‘u. David, who ran unsuccessfully for council in 2010 and 2012 before she became deputy clerk, is joined in the race so far by potential candidates Fred Fogel and Richard Eugene Abbett.

David said she has also discussed the issue with corporation counsel and the state Office of Elections, and she sought the opinion from the board to be sure she was in the clear in her candidacy.

County Clerk Stewart Maeda told the board that he has assigned another employee from the Clerk’s Office to be his backup at the elections control center. The Clerk’s Office oversees the Elections Division, its employees, voter registration and the conduct of the elections.

“She has never had any involvement with elections, and that’s been from the beginning of our term,” Maeda said.

Maeda has also replaced David as council clerk for the council and committee meetings at the West Hawaii Civic Center, what he termed “the most visible part of the job.” The clerk at the meetings reads aloud from the agenda and interprets procedural questions at the meetings, which are later televised.

The Ethics Board voted 4-1 to write an informal advisory opinion saying it sees no problem with her continuing work while a candidate. Vice Chairman Bernard Balsis Jr. said the letter will voice the opinion of the majority, while also including the minority view expressed by board member Douglass Adams.

“Technically I can see that you’ve taken appropriate steps … to avoid a conflict of interest,” Balsis said. “The perception in the community may be different and I don’t know if there are any shields you can put up in terms of community perception.”

Adams disagreed, saying he was “less sanguine” about the situation than his fellow board members.

“Elections are the lifeblood of our democracy, and anything we do to cast aspersions on that, we have to be careful what we do,” Adams said.

Maeda responded that he thinks he and David had addressed the concerns.

“We want to have an open, honest, transparent election, and we don’t want to have any negative perceptions from the public this election cycle,” Maeda said.

The tenor of the meeting was in marked contrast to a similar situation the Ethics Board found itself in during the 2012 election cycle. At that time, it pondered a request forwarded by state Chief Elections Officer Scott Nago for an investigation into former County Council Chairman Dominic Yagong’s involvement in the county Elections Division. Yagong’s daughter was running for County Council at the time.

The 2012 vote split 2-2, effectively killing a motion to proceed with the investigation. Voting yes were then Chairman John Dill and board member Glen Hisashima. Voting no at that time were Balsis and board member Arne Henricks.

Hisashima and Henricks were among the yes votes Wednesday.