Deputy County Clerk Maile David found herself the topic of discussion on both sides of the hallway Wednesday, as the Ethics Board finalized an advisory opinion allowing her to keep her job while running for election, and the County Council mulled cutting her salary in half because her duties are curtailed.
David is running for the sprawling South Kona/Ka‘u District 6 of the County Council, a wide-open seat vacated by term-limited Councilwoman Brenda Ford. David ran unsuccessfully for council in 2010 and 2012 before she became deputy clerk.
Also running are resource conservation consultant Richard Eugene Abbett and former Hawaii Tribune-Herald Publisher Jim Wilson. Fred Fogel has pulled papers but not yet filed for the district. He has done the same for a state House seat.
The Ethics Board voted to send David an informal advisory opinion finding no ethics violation as long as certain “shields” are kept in place to protect the integrity of the election as promised by County Clerk Stewart Maeda. Those include keeping her away from the Division of Elections, one of the divisions under the Clerk’s Office. David also is no longer clerking the County Council sessions at the West Hawaii Civic Center as a way to keep her less in the public eye.
The Ethics Board also wants David to go to the state Office of Elections to get assurances the integrity of the election won’t be compromised by her continuing to work as deputy clerk. That language will be clarified in the final written opinion.
Maeda said he has already spoken with state Chief Elections Officer Scott Nago and didn’t see that there would be a problem.
Nago told Stephens Media Hawaii that he and Maeda did discuss the issue, but he’s not granting clearance.
“We’re not going to give them our blessing, if that’s what they’re asking for,” Nago said.
Nago in 2012 had forwarded a complaint about 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 Ethics Board split 2-2, effectively killing a motion to proceed with the investigation.
At the same time the Ethics Board was discussing David’s job, the County Council unanimously killed a budget amendment to reduce her job to half-time and take $44,898 of her $89,796 annual salary. The money would go toward salary category hikes for council aides, who currently make $30,000 to $31,000 a year.
“This isn’t personal,” said amendment sponsor Kohala Councilwoman Margaret Wille. “But … because of her campaign (she) is not able to do some of these duties. I think we’re already moving the workload around.”
Kona Councilman Dru Kanuha, in an uncharacteristic show of vexation, objected to the amendment.
“We need a deputy clerk to be in line to the clerk. To cut the time and cut the pay is absolutely ridiculous,” Kanuha said. “I don’t know why we’re even talking about this.”
Ford, who beat David in the 2012 election, said it’s an important issue, even though she couldn’t support the amendment.
“It’s a personnel issue, but it needs to be aired publicly,” Ford said. “The clerk is the chief elections officer of this county. .. If we lose the clerk … the deputy clerk has to step into this position.”
Abbett, who watched the meeting from the Ocean View videoconference site, said he knows everyone is doing what they think best, but he worries about further increasing voter cynicism and low turnout, with a new controversy on the heels of the problematic 2012 election.
“I wouldn’t have to ask the Ethics Board about my integrity,” Abbett said.
Wilson declined to comment on the issue.
Email Nancy Cook Lauer at firstname.lastname@example.org.