The New Sheriff In Town

Sara Lin/Civil Beat

UPDATED 8/26/11 4:15 p.m.

Les Kondo, executive director of the Hawaii State Ethics Commission, has drawn the ire of some legislators for his hard line on accepting meals and gifts, disclosing financial interests and lobbying by task force members.

But Kondo, who was appointed unanimously by the agency's five commissioners in January, told Civil Beat in an interview that he and his office are misunderstood by critics.

"I think there are a lot of people at this point that don't appreciate that we are here and part of the team — meaning part of the big state of Hawaii team," he said. "That guidance function is really to help state employees, legislators included, understand where the commission views the lines — how the commission interprets the ethics code."

Those lines are spelled out in black and white in Hawaii Revised Statutes Chapter 84, which sets standards of conduct for state officials, and Chapter 97, which does the same for lobbyists. A user-friendly version is also posted on the commission's website.

"We're not here to trap anybody," said Kondo. "We are not grandstanding or trying to embarrass people. I want people to understand and see the playing field the same way the commission sees the playing field."

But Kondo also makes clear that he and the commission have placed new emphasis on enforcing the ethics code.

"My impression is that at some point the commission is not going to be as sympathetic when people say, 'Hey, I didn't know' or 'It's been like that in the past, I've just done it,'" he said. "I think the commission is going to come hard at people. It's my impression the commission is going to be very aggressive in enforcing the ethics code."

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