By NANCY COOK LAUER
The Hawaii County Board of Ethics meeting erupted into a flurry of gavel-pounding and raised voices Wednesday when Hawaii County Council Chairman Dominic Yagong defended himself against an anonymous complaint that he’s inappropriately involved in the operations of the county Elections Division.
The complaint was forwarded by state Chief Elections Officer Scott Nago, asking the Ethics Board to investigate allegations that Yagong’s involvement in the county Elections Division is a conflict of interest because his daughter, Chelsea Yagong, is running for County Council. Nago cites a local radio station website as background for the complaint.
The board voted unanimously to continue the case until next month, after Yagong asked Ethics Board Chairman John Dill to recuse himself from the case because of his own conflict of interest. The board will vote on whether Dill has a conflict at its next meeting.
According to Yagong, Dill had personally called Yagong in 2009 and asked him to give his brother a job. Yagong said he didn’t hire the brother.
Dill first said he couldn’t recall such a conversation, and then later denied it.
That got Yagong going.
“You’re denying this, Mr. Dill? Are you denying this? … Is this payback?” Yagong said, speaking over Dill’s attempts to cut him off. “Oh, you’re going to be in more ethical trouble than anyone else that ever came before this ethics commission.”
County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi also stepped up with her own request that Dill recuse himself, based on a letter he wrote in July asking that the state Attorney General’s Office remove her from oversight of the Elections Division and that the office be shut down and its functions moved to the state Attorney General’s Office or the U.S. Attorney General’s Office, according to Kawauchi.
Dill said after the meeting that he wrote a letter as a private individual expressing his concerns about the office after Kawauchi closed it one day to conduct an internal audit. The Hawaii County Police Department announced Tuesday that it was investigating her allegations of voter fraud in the 2010 elections. Kawauchi has said her audit showed duplicate entries in the voter registry and indications that some people may have voted twice.
Yagong pressed the board for specifics on what part of the county code prohibits an elected offical from working on a family member’s campaign. There is none, said Deputy Corporation Counsel Renee Schoen.
But Dill said the fact that Yagong, who as council chairman oversees the county clerk, who in turn oversees the Elections Division, could pose a conflict of interest if his oversight is operational and procedural, because of his daughter’s candidacy.
“I’m sorry you feel and stated publicly this is a silly distraction when really all we’re trying to do is preserve the integrity of the democratic process and the best interest of County of Hawaii voters so they have some shred of faith that their vote does count without being unduly hampered or messed with,” Dill said.
Email Nancy Cok Lauer at firstname.lastname@example.org.