Nearly two months after Jacqueline Kido left to join Ben Cayetano’s mayoral campaign, the Hawaii State Ethics Commission is still missing a member.

By the end of November, it will be missing another. Commissioner Les Knudsen has also decided to leave the board, and his resignation is effective at the end of that month, according to the commission’s executive director, Les Kondo.

For the five-person board, the possibility of losing almost half of its capacity is alarming. The commission is in charge of administering, enforcing and issuing opinions about state ethics, lobbyists, financial disclosures and more. It needs at least three members to agree in order for any decisions to be made.

Kondo said that while operations have pretty much continued as usual since Kido’s departure, having one less commissioner is tough.

“It is challenging having less than the full complement of commissioners,” Kondo said.

There’s a possibility that one or more of the remaining four may be unable to participate in a decision — for example, if one has conflict of interest, he said.

This situation hasn’t happened yet. But if it did, “it could affect the commission’s ability to do business,” he said.

The rules say that all opinions and decisions must be signed by at least three members.

“The commission can operate with three people,” Kondo said, noting that he hopes that it doesn’t have to. “Obviously if one person [out of the three] doesn’t agree it makes it more challenging as well.”

Lack of Interest or Awareness?

Finding new members for the ethics commission hasn’t been easy. The Judicial Council was forced to extend the deadline for Kido’s spot until Sept. 23 when it didn’t receive enough applications. Even after extending the deadline, the Judicial Council received just four applications for the available seat, according to Judiciary spokeswoman Marsha Kitagawa.

The rules say that the Judicial Council should nominate two people for the vacancy, one of whom will be chosen by the Governor.

“The ethics commission is not considered one of the most fun commissions,” said Sen. Les Ihara. “It’s serious work … It’s probably one of the least sought-after.”

Ethics commissioners have to make tough, often unpopular decisions about how to handle ethics-related issues in the state. Sometimes this means imposing fines and penalties upon public officials who break the rules.

In addition to the difficulty of the job, it can be time-consuming. Kondo said that Knudsen is leaving for personal reasons, related in part to the difficulty of commuting to Oahu from his home on Kauai for commission obligations.

Commissioners also shouldn’t hold public office or be involved in political campaigns. That’s why Kido had to step down when she took the position on Cayetano’s campaign in August. Her position was short-lived however; she was replaced by Robert Kay in September.

Given that the job may not be too attractive on its own, Ihara said that not enough is being done to seek out new applicants.

“There should be a greater outreach and recruitment of volunteers,” he said.

The ethics commission took out an advertisement in the Sunday Honolulu Star-Advertiser to publicize the position.

But Ihara said that while that doesn’t hurt, he’s not sure how many people paid attention.

“What I would like to see is a recruitment program speaking to various rotary clubs or different kinds of civic organizations or even publicizing it so that people would volunteer,” he said. He also suggested making a video describing what commissioners do to raise awareness about what the position is.

Nikki Love, director of Hawaii Common Cause, a nonprofit that promotes accountability and transparency in government, said that the organization has helped publicize the vacancy through social media.

“I do think there’s a relatively small pool of people and organizations that follow the (commission’s) work closely,” she said. “Anything we can do to get the word out to more people we’d be happy to help with.”

DISCUSSIONS: Would you want to be on the state ethics commission? Why or why not?

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