Honolulu City Council Divided Over Chairman's Ethics

Adrienne LaFrance/Civil Beat

Honolulu's City Council is split over its chairman's decision to delay disclosing a $60,000-a-year consulting contract with a pro-rail organization.

A Civil Beat survey of the nine-member council found that four members expressed concerns about Nestor Garcia's action, one was totally supportive and three took a middle ground.

Garcia didn't make public for more than a year that since 2009 he has been executive director of the Kapolei Chamber of Commerce, a pro-rail group. The outside gig, which is not illegal but raised questions about a possible conflict of interest, was revealed on March 25 by KITV reporter Daryl Huff.

Council members Romy Cachola, Tom Berg, Breene Harimoto and Ann Kobayashi raised concerns or were strongly critical of Garcia. Ernie Martin said he didn't see a problem. Stanley Chang, Ikaika Anderson and Tulsi Gabbard Tamayo were careful not to criticize the chairman while saying they would have disclosed.

Garcia had filed a disclosure form in January, revealing the Kapolei job. He also filed a disclosure on March 24, saying it could create a conflict on a resolution about development in the area. But he hasn't publicly discussed it in meetings where rail was an issue. Garcia has defended his decision to keep the matter private, telling Civil Beat, "Don't tell me I'm a whore."

From the four who expressed concerns to Civil Beat:

  • "I was very surprised and disappointed that he didn't disclose sooner," Kobayashi said.
  • "It should have been disclosed earlier," Cachola said.
  • "I think all the council members here are very diligent in providing that they have a conflict." Berg said. "He should be doing the same in this role."
  • "While I don't believe there is any impropriety in the situation with our council chair," Harimoto said, "personally, I would avoid that kind of position."

From the three in the middle:

  • "Legally speaking, there is no issue," said Chang, a lawyer.
  • "Given their specific interest and support in the rail project in the interest of caution, absolutely I think it's appropriate to disclose that possible conflict," Gabbard Tamayo said.
  • "I think that that's an issue that the voters of District 9 who put him in office need to determine. I don't think whether or not that job is a conflict of interest is in the realm of the City Council," said Anderson, who added that in a case such as theft he would say something.

Martin was clear: "From what I know, I don't see a conflict for the chairman," he said. But even he hesitated to say whether he would have taken the job, saying he had an unfair advantage having seen the reaction to how Garcia handled his disclosure.

Next may be a public discussion of these issues, given that Garcia has said he now wants stricter disclosure requirements for all council members. Specifically, he thinks council members should have to disclose all clients.

"I want the disclosures of all nine of us," Garcia said. "I voluntarily did it. Make it mandatory. Maybe the attorneys are going to fight it, but let's talk about it."

To read more about the council member's views on Garcia, their thoughts on disclosure rules and what they have disclosed about their own possible conflicts, please read a related article.


DISCUSSION: Share your views about the council's attitudes on disclosure and ethics. Read what others have to say and join the conversation in our city government discussion.

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