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Kenoi puts ethics bill back on table

December 27, 2013 - 10:41pm

Still trying to keep a 2008 campaign promise, Mayor Billy Kenoi has reintroduced his ethics bill to the Hawaii County Council.

The bill has twice been spurned by the Board of Ethics and then killed by a previous council after months of delays. Kenoi is hoping the new council will see the reforms differently.

He’s proposed four changes, some of them modeled after the City and County of Honolulu’s code. The changes, aimed at stopping the most blatant appearances of conflicts of interest, forbid employees from contracting with county government or lobbying boards and commissions on behalf of private businesses.

The most significant proposal is a ban on companies holding contracts with county government where county employees, their spouses or dependent children have a controlling interest.

“People can choose to be either an employee of the county or a vendor of the county, but not both,” Kenoi has repeatedly said.

He said Friday he’ll likely testify in person in support of the bill.

“I want to lend the full support of the administration behind this bill,” Kenoi said.

Hawaii County Council members, as well as the Ethics Board, worried the changes would have unintended consequences, preventing off-duty police from working events, or even minor contracts such as held by children of county employees from working as part-time lifeguards. The off-duty police, under the wording of the reforms, would still be able to work, as their contracts are with the event or road contractor hiring them, not the county.

Kenoi has said the other concern could be addressed by setting a minimum dollar amount where the new ethics rules would kick in.

“We view these proposals as an opportunity to increase public confidence in the operations of county government, and to bring the Code of Ethics more closely into line with evolving community expectations,” Kenoi said in a Dec. 9 letter to the council.

Kenoi has said the ethics reform is not targeted at a single county employee as much as it is just good public policy. But one county worker, Randy Riley, a Department of Public Works division head who unsuccessfully ran against Kenoi in 2008, is part owner of a company that has had a contract for drywell pumping since 1996.

At its peak, in 2008, Kamaaina Pumping invoiced the county $1.26 million, according to records obtained from the county Department of Finance. The company billed the county $714,167 in 2012.

Riley is in charge of the county’s Automotive Division and had no input into how the request for bids was written by a colleague heading the Highway Maintenance Division, according to Department of Public Works Director Warren Lee. Riley’s attorney, Brian De Lima, says Riley no longer holds a controlling interest in the company.

The current county ethics code allows county employees to contract with the county, as long as the contract is awarded competitively by sealed bid. The code forbids employees from using their position to secure advantages or contracts over others.

The issue was last before the council in November 2010, when it was voted down by a 5-2 vote. Of those still on the council, Chairman J Yoshimoto of Hilo abstained at the time because his wife, Tracie, previously contracted with the county’s Office of Aging. South Kona/Ka‘u Councilwoman Brenda Ford voted yes, and Hilo Councilman Dennis Onishi voted no.

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