House Speaker Joe Souki is calling on the Hawaii State Ethics Commission to reject many of the new policies it has put in place since Les Kondo became its executive director in 2011.
“I believe the Commission should examine its own past opinions from the 1970s through 2010 and disavow any directives subsequent to that time that alter past accepted practices,” Souki wrote in a four-page letter to the commission’s chair, Ed Broglio.
The five-member commission has been reviewing Kondo’s performance over the past four months, his first formal evaluation in three years, and plans to take up the issue at its next meeting Wednesday.
Ethics Executive Director Les Kondo, seen here at a state Ethics Commission meeting in July 2014, is under fire for his view of what the Ethics Code allows or prohibits.
PF Bentley/Civil Beat
There have been rumblings that Kondo may be out of a job as soon as next week but Broglio said Thursday that he doesn’t think that will be the case.
Kondo has liberally construed the Ethics Code over the past four years, issuing a series of directives and recommendations for lawmakers and state employees to follow.
The guidance has irked many, evidently to the point that it prompted Souki to pen his April 27 letter to Broglio about the “dismaying pattern” he’s seen of the commission staff “trying to rewrite the Ethics Code” to conform to their own notions of ethical conduct.
Souki is particularly incensed about the commission’s crackdown on charitable fundraising at the Legislature or other state venues, bargaining unit candidates communicating with their fellow union members through the use of the employees’ workplace mailboxes, teachers being compensated for chaperoning students on educational trips to distant destinations, and receipt of gifts, meals, and charitable fundraiser tickets that total, in one year, $200 or less from a single source.
“If such common and longstanding practices are troubling to the Commission or its staff, the proper approach is to come to the Legislature with proposed legislation to address thoseconcerns,” he wrote. “Instead, I continue to see unilateral imposition of restrictions, often based neither on historical practices nor prior Commission opinions, but justified on the basis that the Ethics Code is to be liberally construed.”
Kondo declined to comment on Souki’s letter or his possible termination, saying only that the matter is on the commission’s agenda next week and will be addressed at that point accordingly.
“I expect that they will consider a response that they think is appropriate,” Kondo said.
Kondo has been in the hot seat practically since he took over the executive director spot in 2011, tangling with lawmakers over his hard line on accepting meals and gifts, disclosing financial interests and lobbying by task force members. Even then, he was upfront about the seriousness with which the commission intended to enforce the ethics code and crack down on violators.
Update Souki emailed a two-paragraph statement Friday afternoon in response to the article.
Here is what he had to say:
“My April 27th letter to Mr. Edward Broglio, chair of the Hawii State Ethics Commission, was written in response to a December letter sent to all legislators from the Commission. The letter was not intended to influence personnel decisions of the Commission, as has been suggested by your news article published on May 22.
“As I noted in my response letter, I believe that recent directives and recommendations by the Commission have led to confusion and uncertainty, where directives should produce clarity. I suggested in my letter that if the Commission felt current ethic codes needed to be changed that the proper way to do so would be to submit legislation to that effect.”
Read Souki’s April 27 letter to Broglio here:
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