By NANCY COOK LAUER
Complaints against the chairman of the Windward Planning Commission, the chairman of the Hawaii County Council and union-endorsed candidate forums on the taxpayers’ dime: The county Board of Ethics has a full plate of issues when it meets Wednesday in County Council chambers.
Windward Planning Commission Chairman Zendo Kern, who won the Puna District 5 County Council seat in the Aug. 11 primary, became the subject of an anonymous complaint based on his actions at a May 3 commission meeting.
At issue was planning staff’s recommendation to revoke a special-use permit for Hawaii Volcano Circus, the parent organization of the Seaview Performing Arts Center for Education. The company faced a shutdown following complaints from neighbors about public performances, noise and parking issues at its Kalapana location.
Kern disclosed ties to HVC Chairman Graham Ellis, but said, on advice of Corporation Counsel, he was allowed to vote. The commission ultimately bucked the planning staff’s recommendations and gave the circus until December to submit an amendment to broaden the permitted uses of the property.
“Before we get into it, I have a disclosure to make. I checked with my Corporation Counsel and I do not need to recuse myself,” Kern said at the time, according to commission minutes. “But just to alleviate any appearance of potential impropriety I would like to disclose the fact that I do know Graham, I consider a friend. We are not like really close friends, but I do know Graham. Graham has made a contribution to my campaign. I’ve been to SPACE, farmer’s market. And actually I attended the 25th anniversary celebration, didn’t know it wasn’t kosher, but I was there. So I just wanted to disclose that. But again, based on that there is no, I don’t have any interest in it or anything else, so I don’t need to recuse myself. But I’m just all about transparency and full disclosure.”
Kern declined comment when contacted Friday.
An Aug. 1 Stephens Media article describing how 538 Hawaii County employees and their state counterparts were sent to two-hour “educational and informational meetings” on county time at county facilities to listen to a union-endorsed lineup of candidates has also inspired an ethics complaint.
United Public workers State Director Dayton Nakanelua has defended the practice, saying it was upheld by the courts in 2010 and protected in the union’s contract. The state Ethics Commission doesn’t offer an opinion on county activities. Section 2-83 of Article 15 of the Hawaii County Code of Ethics prohibits county employees from using county time, equipment or facilities for campaign purposes.
And, the Ethics Board will consider a complaint against County Council Chairman Dominic Yagong that was forwarded by state Chief Elections Officer Scott Nago. It’s not known who filed the complaint.
In an Aug. 31 letter to Ethics Board Chairman John Dill that was copied to the council members, Nago says the complainant alleges Yagong’s involvement in the county Elections Division is a conflict because his daughter, Chelsea Yagong, is running for County Council. Nago cites a local radio station website as background for the complaint.
Yagong has said the whole issue is without merit and is a “silly distraction” from more important issues, such as preparing for the Nov. 6 General Election.
Ethics Board Chairman John Dill told Stephens Media on Friday that he sent a letter back to Nago last Wednesday. Beyond that, Dill declined comment until the board meeting.
“I spelled out what our powers are and said that we will be agendizing it,” Dill said.
Lastly, the board is scheduled to put its final stamp of approval on a draft order dismissing ethics complaints against Hilo Councilmen Donald Ikeda and Dennis Onishi. That complaint, heard last month, charged that the two violated the county ethics code by their absenteeism at council meetings. The Ethics Board decided it didn’t have jurisdiction.
Email Nancy Cook Lauer at firstname.lastname@example.org.