The Honolulu City Council this year has considered 50 gift resolutions worth $450,000 — and it has approved all of them.

For city officials or agencies to accept a gift, donors must seek the approval of the council in the form of a resolution. Fifty-four gift resolutions have been introduced so far in 2011. Of those, 50 have been approved, with four awaiting consideration.

Mayor Peter Carlisle, Fire Chief Kenneth Silva, the Honolulu Police Department, city ceremonies, several parks and even the Ala Wai Golf Course were among the recipients of gifts. Donors included the Bank of Hawaii, Target Stores, Hawaiian Electric Co., land developers and others.

Some of the gifts approved by the council were straightforward. For example, the American Youth Soccer Association donated $5,000 worth of semi-permanent soccer goals for Kapiolani Park; The Friends of Diamond Head Tennis Association donated $30,000 in cash for improvements to the Kapiolani Park/Diamond Head tennis courts; and Brigitte Togioka donated a recycled bench for Sandy Beach Park valued at $3,025.

But the city ethics commission has made clear the practice of accepting gifts opens the door to possible ethical conflicts.

“A gift includes money, goods, services, loans, travel, entertainment, hospitality, discounts, promises or any other thing for which full value is not paid,” Robin Liu, former chair of the city ethics commission, wrote in the 2004 revised guidelines regarding gifts. “A person who presents a gift to a city official may expect something in return. Similarly, a city official who asks for a gift may become obligated to the gift-giver. The public is concerned that those who provide gifts to a government official may receive special treatment from the official.”

The revised gift guidelines bar Honolulu officials from accepting or soliciting anything that could be reasonably inferred to influence or reward “the performance of official duties.”

Specifically, the guidelines prohibit officials from accepting any gift in excess of $200 if “the source of the gift(s) has an interest that the public official may affect in carrying out his or her duties.”

Many of the actual gift resolutions don’t say who the intended recipient of a gift is, making it difficult to pinpoint obvious conflicts. The majority of gifts are given to city departments — or the city itself.

For example, as described in Resolution 11-39, Hawaiian Electric Company donated $10,000 in cash for the “(Department of Parks and Recreation’s) annual Lei Day Celebration.”

It’s unlikely anybody will protest a free bench or a handful of soccer goals. But with some gifts, the distinction is less clear.

Last year, Walmart Stores Inc. and Sam’s West, Inc. donated $350,000 to Honolulu’s Department of Planning and Permitting for computers and software. City Council members raised questions about whether the business was trying to gain leverage through its gift.

At the time, Civil Beat reported Walmart spokeswoman Angie Stone writing via email: “We have been working with the city to finalize matters for the project at the Honolulu Walmart/Sam’s Club location on Keeaumoku Street and are pleased to support local efforts through this one-time contribution.”

The City Council eventually determined the gift was not intended to influence and approved it.

More recently, citizens donated $7,351 worth in renovations to upgrade the mayor’s office. Earlier in the year, a development group, a rail consultant, a credit union, a food distributor, an engineering firm and a shipping company donated more than $15,000 for the mayor’s Memorial Day Ceremony.

Steve Colón, president of the Hawaii division of Hunt Development Group, which donated $5,000 for the “implementation” of the Memorial Day ceremony, says his company has given the same amount for at least five years.

“Part of it was my development office had only been going for a year or two and we were looking to get more involved in making donations to different community events,” Colón told Civil Beat.

At the time, he said, an official from the city solicited Hunt to make the donation, specifically asking for $5,000, and Hunt obliged. Colón said he personally supported the donation to the memorial ceremony, as he’s a retired Navy captain.

Asked if Hunt made the donation to curry favor with public officials, Colón said he could understand why the perception might exist, but said that wasn’t the case.

“I could see why somebody would think that,” Colón said. “But in our case, I didn’t view it as so much a donation to the city as I viewed it as a donation to putting on an event… I don’t see this as, ‘OK, well let’s do this because now, if we want to get a meeting with the mayor, we’ll be able to get a meeting with the mayor.'”

Colón said if Hunt officials wanted a meeting with the mayor, it could probably get one regardless of donations. Hunt is a major developer in the state — in business since the early 1990s — and has constructed over 5,500 homes on Oahu.

The table below shows all gifts and their value given to the city in 2011:

Resolution Type of Gift Giver Gift Value
11-01 Signs for Koolaupoko Ahupuaa Project Koolaupoko Hawaiian Civil Club $716
11-03 Cash for Kapiolani Park/Diamond Head Tennis Friends of Diamond Head Tennis Association $30,000
11-04 Recycled bench for Sandy Beach Park Brigitte Togioka $3,025
11-05 Funding to purchase fire/safety equipment Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company $7,201
11-09 Travel/lodging expenses for trip for mayor Harvard Kennedy School Ash Institute $1,582
11-11 Phenolic core partitions for Ala Wai Golf Course Friends of AlaWai Ballroom Dance Academy $13,146
11-14 Travel/lodging expenses for fire chief for event International Association of Fire Chiefs $1,957
11-39 Cash for Lei Day Celebration Hawaiian Electric Company, Inc. $10,000
11-40 Cash/gifts for Senior Citizens Valentine Dance Bank of Hawaii $4,000
11-41 Cash/gifts for Oahu Primetime Wellness Fair First Hawaiian Bank $21,000
11-42 Cash for Kahala Community Park Friends of Hawaii Charities $25,000
11-43 Semi-permanent soccer goals for Kapiolani Park American Youth Soccer Association $4,935
11-44 Funding for fire safety equipment Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company $5,449
11-45 Female bloodhound for HPD Friends of the Missing Child Center $4,500
11-49 Travel/lodging for assistant fire chief for event Hawaii Fire Chiefs Association $2,500
11-50 Airfare for fire chief for event Western Fire Chiefs Association $861
11-59 Cash for Kapiolani Park Honolulu Marathon Association $13,056
11-61 Funding for a HFD Retirees’ Luncheon Honolulu Firefighters Foundation $2,800
11-62 Cash for Mayor’s Senior Recognition Program Hawaii Medical Service Association $5,000
11-63 Gifts for Mayor’s 45th Senior Recognition Program First Hawaiian Bank $6,000
11-75 Cash for “community benefit projects” Friends of Honolulu Parks and Recreation $3,000
11-76 Cash for Lei Day Celebration Times Supermarkets $5,000
11-81 Cash for Mayor’s Memorial Day Ceremony Hunt Development Group $5,000
11-86 Cash for Honolulu Botanical Gardens Friends of Honolulu Botanical Gardens $5,000
11-88 Cash for Mayor’s Memorial Day Ceremony HFM Foodservice $2,500
11-89 Cash for Mayor’s Memorial Day Ceremony HDR Engineering, Inc. $2,500
11-95 Cash for Mayor’s Memorial Day Ceremony Hawaii USA Federal Credit Union $1,500
11-101 17 electric guns for HPD Honolulu Police Community Foundation $25,000
11-106 Travel/lodging for fire chief to event International Association of Fire Chiefs $1,783
11-108 Cash for Mayor’s Memorial Day Ceremony PB Americas, Inc. $2,500
11-114 Travel/lodging for assistant fire chief for event International Association of Fire Chiefs $2,300
11-120 Food/catering for rail groundbreaking InfiaConsult LLC $9,741
11-121 Travel/lodging for fire chief/assistant fire chief for event International Association of Fire Chiefs $4,178
11-122 16 FIashCAM 880K surveillance camera packages for HPD Target Stores $100,000
11-123 Cash for gifts/preparation for Exhibit and Awards of The National Arts Program National Arts Program Foundation $3,050
11-130 30 tickets for HPD for Honolulu Police Community Foundation event Honolulu Police Community Foundation $6,000
11-131 Cash for training literature and software for HPD The 200 Club $11,525
11-133 Conference fees for city sustainability coordinator for event CraigMichaels, Inc. $495
11-134 Travel/lodging for two delegates for trip to Korea Seoul/Incheon Metropolitan Government $2,200
11-142 Travel/lodging for five delegates for trip to Taiwan and mainland China Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Honolulu/Chengdu Municipal People’s Government/Qinhuangdao Municipal People’s Government/Shenzhen Delicate Furniture Co., Ltd. $16,500
11-146 Vehicle Paint Booth for Dept. of Facility Maintenance HT & T Hawaii, LLC $12,988
11-151 Cash for Mayor’s Memorial Day Ceremony Matson Navigation Co. $1,175
11-152 Cash for production of Senior Information and Assistance Handbook American Savings Bank $5,000
11-153 Cash for production of Senior Information and Assistance Handbook Kaiser Permanente $5,000
11-154 Cash for production of Senior Information and Assistance Handbook Queen’s Medical Center $5,000
11-158 Customized windscreens for Koko Head District Park Oahu District Tennis Association $2,700
11-159 Recycled bench for Aina Moana Beach Park Jeanne Chun Turano $2,901
11-160 Cash for mayor’s office renovation Lauren Wright/Christopher Racine $5,843
11-161 Draperies for mayor’s office Lauren Wright $1,508
11-165 Travel/lodging for fire chief International Association of Fire Chiefs $3,407
11-166 Cash to fund attendance for HFD personelle for conferences, training, etc. The 200 Club $15,000
11-169 Recycled bench for Haleiwa Alii Beach Park Kirno Hollinger $2,894
11-171 Gifts for enhancement city baseball fields Sports Turf Hawaii $11,761
TOTAL $447,677