Former Honolulu City Council Chairman Todd Apo has surfaced as a potential pick for the new transit agency’s board of directors — and so have new details about his two ethics violations, including a $500 civil fine.

An un-redacted version of a four-year-old ethics commission opinion chronicling Apo’s first violation was posted online Tuesday afternoon, painting the clearest picture to date of Apo’s ethics breaches.

“I think my record — while being on the council and serving as chair — was a solid record, and I hope people can recognize that,” Apo told Civil Beat in an interview Tuesday. “Obviously I took ethics issues very seriously and so, despite a disagreement with the commission’s interpretation of when I should have filed disclosures, I always made sure that I in fact filed those disclosures.”

Though separated by two years, the violations were nearly identical. They involved Apo voting on a bill related to the Waimanalo Gulch Sanitary Landfill’s closure despite a clear conflict of interest on the issue. In both cases, the bills affected Apo’s other employer at the time — Ko Olina Community Association.

“Although Councilmember Apo filed his written disclosure, he should have done so at an earlier time, before the vote on the first bill that affected his employer’s interest,” wrote the commission in 2007.

Apo argued the timing of his disclosure was appropriate because the intent of the bill had changed.

“The original form of the bill as it was introduced talked about what types of materials could go into the landfill. Based on the topic, I did not file a disclosure,” Apo said. “But in committee after second reading, the committee amended that bill to talk about the actual closure of the landfill. When that change happened, I filed my disclosure. The difference of opinion between myself and the commission was the issue didn’t address the closure of the landfill until that point.”

Two years later, Apo did the same thing. According to a report released on February 28, 2011, the commission reported that Apo had committed a nearly identical violation, again voting on a bill related to the landfill’s closure before disclosing a potential conflict involving his employer. The commission wrote:

“In an earlier but nearly identical case, Advisory Opinion No. 2007-1, the Commission found that Mr. Apo should have, but failed to file his disclosure of conflict of interest before he voted on a bill…

Mr. Apo’s disregard of the Commission’s prior opinion in Advisory Opinion No. 2007-1 significantly raises the seriousness of what could be viewed as a technical violation. That Mr. Apo had no explanation for not filing his disclosure until after the vote was taken on the bill raises a question about whether he had much concern for the consequences of violating the disclosure law. As the Chair of the Council he was the head of the legislative branch of city government and had a responsibility to the public, his constituents and the other councilmembers to ensure he performed his duties with the highest ethical standards.”

Apo disagrees with the commission’s findings.

“I filed my disclosure December of 2009 and their opinion was I should have filed it two months earlier in October,” Apo told Civil Beat Tuesday. “They recognized it wasn’t a matter of not filing, it was a matter of timing.”

Apo resigned from the council in November 2010 to take a full-time job with Disney’s Aulani Resort at Ko Olina. (He resigned after the Nov. 2 election, costing the city about $170,000 for a special election to replace him. He said he waited until after the election to step down to ensure a smooth transition for a council with a majority of new members and a new mayor.)

Asked how the ethics violations might affect his ability to serve in a critical role on the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transit, Apo said: “I don’t think the ethics issues have anything to do with my public service.”

He also reiterated that he never hid his affiliation with Ko Olina, where he also worked before joining the council in 2004.

“My position at Ko Olina was well-known, publicly,” he said. “I disagree with where (the Ethics Commission) came out on it. But that’s their job to do their answers to these questions.”

As for the timing of the Ethics Commission’s release of the un-redacted version of the 2007 opinion, the commission meant to post it online sooner, according to Chuck Totto, Ethics Commission Executive Director.

“We intended to ‘unredact’ 2007-1 at the same time as 2011-1 was posted, but it wasn’t done, although 2011-1 make its clear that 2007-1 dealt with Mr. Apo,” Totto said in an email.

City Council Chairman Nestor Garcia, who succeeded Apo as the council’s leader, said he was surprised to learn of Apo’s second violation.

“We were close. I thought we were close but apparently not because I didn’t know about any of this stuff,” said Garcia. “I think he really enjoyed being a lawmaker. I never saw Todd as being so one-sided or focused. I don’t think Todd was that kind of guy. I don’t think he would want to get elected for just one issue.”

Garcia is still deflecting negative attention about his own disclosures, which emerged last month. Apo, who didn’t comment on Garcia, pointed out his own charges are in stark contrast to the city’s highest profile recent ethics scandal involving Rod Tam, who was convicted of 26 counts of theft and faces sentencing later this year.

“But it all gets mixed into the perception of what’s going on,” Apo said. “These issues coming up shows the system works, that there’s a level of checks and balances. I think it’s now been shown those checks and balances work on a broad spectrum of issues.”

Apo told Civil Beat on Monday that while he doesn’t know if he’s officially one of Mayor Peter Carlisle’s three nominees for HART, he’d like to have the unpaid job.

“I can say that I have been approached by various people at the city about serving in the authority,” Apo told Civil Beat Monday afternoon. “The rail project was a large part of my six years on the council. I am interested in serving in that capacity.”


—Robert Brown contributed to this story.

About the Authors