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On Dec. 2, Corporation Counsel Donna Leong said her department will now begin providing ethics advice to all city employees, particularly as it relates to standards of conduct, conflicts of interest and fair treatment
Leong said the reason for the memo was to clear up any confusion related to the Ethics Commission and the rules it governs under the city charter.
“This year, the Ethics Commission inquired as to whether this Department has the power and duty to advise the City’s officers and employees in all matters relating to their official powers and duties, including RCH Aritcle XI,” Leong said, referencing the section of the city charter that governs the Ethics Commission.
“We wish to confirm that a City officer or employee may request legal assistance from COR with regard to all matters relating to the official powers and duties of City officers and employees, including the exercise of those powers subject to RCH Article XI.”
Leong’s memo hasn’t gone over well with Honolulu Ethics Commission Executive Director Chuck Totto, who is expected to discuss it during an Ethics Commission meeting Wednesday.
Providing ethics advice is one of the commission’s main duties. In fact, in the past 11 years the commission has issued 4,500 advisory opinions to city employees in addition to its normal investigative duties. The commission is estimated to issue 500 of these advisory opinions in the current year alone.
“It’s going to lead to a lot of confusion,” Totto said Tuesday of Leong’s memo. “My opinion is that it’s bad public policy, and I’ll be explaining my reasons to the commission tomorrow.”
A number of complications could arise from having city attorneys offer ethics advice to other city employees.
For one, the attorneys might give conflicting advice from that given by Ethics Commission attorneys, whose job it is to be experts in the rules governing their agency.
There’s also the added wrinkle that city attorneys aren’t insulated from retaliation the way the Ethics Commission is as an autonomous agency.
The Ethics Commission has been butting heads with the Caldwell administration for the past several months over everything from the budget to the administration’s interference in ongoing investigations.
One of those ethics probes includes the investigation into possible improprieties dealing with ORI Anuenue Hale, a Central Oahu nonprofit that has received millions of dollars of aid from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The Ethics Commission is scheduled to discuss these matters and more at the 11:30 a.m. meeting Wednesday, although Leong has asked for some issues to be postponed because she will not be in attendance.
You can read Leong’s Dec. 2 memo and attachment below: