Honolulu Ethics Commission Complains of Affronts to Its Independence

Investigation into possible fraud that may have cost taxpayers $250,000 a year was derailed, letter says.

·By Sophie Cocke

Honolulu’s Ethics Commission, tasked with ferreting out government corruption, hoped to purchase a $600 GPS tracking device last month to investigate city employees suspected of getting paid for work that they didn’t do.

The alleged scheme is believed to be costing the city a quarter of a million dollars a year, according to a draft of a letter the Ethics Commission intends to send to Mayor Kirk Caldwell.

A copy of the draft letter from Katy Chen, vice chair of the Ethics Commission, was provided to Civil Beat by the commission. It provides no further details about the fraud investigation.

The investigation was hampered by the amount of time that Donna Leong, the city’s corporation counsel, took to approve the GPS device, the letter states.

Leong “waited five weeks while apparently mulling over ‘policy implications’ before conditionally approving the $600 purchase, by which time the investigative window on the case had closed,” the letter states.

Ethics Commission Executive Director Chuck Totto

Nick Grube/ Civil Beat

This latest action by the corporation counsel is one of a string of Caldwell administration affronts to the independence of the Ethics Commission in recent months, the letter states.

The letter asks Caldwell to clarify the limitations of the corporation counsel’s powers to “help revitalize the independence of the commission, as well as demonstrate the administration’s commitment to an excellent ethics program.”

A spokesman for the Caldwell administration did not respond to a request for comment on the letter, which will likely be discussed at an Ethics Commission

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Sophie Cocke

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