By NANCY COOK LAUER
Two Puna residents have filed an ethics complaint against Puna Councilman Fred Blas, alleging he lied about a polling place not opening on time for the Aug. 11 primary.
The complaint is based on Blas’ comments during an Aug. 20 County Council meeting where County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi was reporting on primary election day problems. Blas, speaking from the dais after Kawauchi’s presentation, described how he was standing about 200 feet from a Pahoa polling place that morning and he was “really disappointed” about what he saw.
“You see cars drive in, in and out like a drive-through, and I said, ‘What’s going on down there?’” Blas told the clerk that day. “They said, ‘The poll is closed; we have to come back later on. We don’t know what time.’ A lot of the voters, you know, they have to go to work. So there’s really a lot of people that did not vote in that district down there.”
In all, 13 of Hawaii County’s 40 polling places opened late for the primary, with four opening 45 to 90 minutes late, five opening within 30 minutes and four opening less than five minutes late, according to the state Office of Elections.
But polling place 04-02, Keonepoko Elementary School in Pahoa, was not one of them. It opened promptly at 7 a.m., according to the state report.
The confusion apparently stemmed from the fact that Puna’s Keonepoko Elementary School is located on Kahakai Boulevard, while one of the latest-opening polling places was Kahakai Elementary School in Kailua-Kona. That polling place opened at 8:40 a.m.
Kawauchi tried to clarify Blas’ comments at the time, according to the official council video of the session.
“Kahakai?” she asked. “Kahakai Elementary School?”
“Yes. Uh huh,” agreed Blas.
“So that’s District Precinct 06-02,” Kawauchi said.
During a break at the Aug. 20 council meeting, West Hawaii Today asked Blas if he were at the Kailua-Kona polling place that morning. He said no, he was campaigning near the Keonepoko school. When shown the printed list of polling places and their opening times that indicated Keonepoko opened on time, Blas said then that the report must be in error.
He did not return detailed messages left at his council office or on his cellphone Tuesday.
The complaint was filed by RJ Hampton and Robert Petricci, both frequent testifiers at council meetings. Hampton was also an aide to former Puna Councilwoman Emily Naeole, who lost to Blas in 2010.
Ethics Board Chairman John Dill said he’d received the petition, but he was unsure Tuesday whether the matter would be scheduled on the agenda for the board’s next meeting Nov. 19.
The petition cites Section 2-83 of the county ethics code, which states “all persons shall be treated in a courteous, fair and impartial manner.” Hampton and Petricci note in their complaint that there is no provision in the county code against perjury, lying or being dishonest.
“It is our position that lying, intentional deception and/or perjury is not fair, nor is it courteous,” the petition says. “If public officials can lie to us, or perjure themselves, and not be accountable, it calls into question the credibility of the whole council and indeed the law-making process itself in Hawaii County.”