Les Kondo is still executive director of the State Ethics Commission after apparently surviving an unusually lengthy and contentious evaluation, and a move by one or more commissioners to fire him.

For now, at least.

That was the word after the five members of the commission emerged from behind closed doors early Wednesday afternoon to announce they had completed their review of Kondo’s job performance, a process that has taken 10 meetings over nine months, additional meetings of a special subcommittee, and more than seven hours of discussion in closed-door executive sessions over the past two weeks.

Ed Broglio Ethics Commission

Hawaii State Ethics Commission chairman Ed Broglio.

Ian Lind/Civil Beat


“The commission has concluded its discussions in private with its executive director,” commission chairman Ed Broglio said. “We will be doing further revaluations in the future.”

With that, the meeting was adjourned.

“Is Les Kondo still the commission’s executive director,” Broglio was then asked.

His reply was simple and direct.

“Yes,” he answered, without any further embellishment.

The meeting was a continuation of the commission’s regular May 27 meeting, which had ended without the commission reaching a conclusion on Kondo’s future.

Kondo has drawn fire from legislators for the tough stance he has taken on several ethics issues, beginning just weeks after he assumed the commission’s top post at the beginning of 2011.  In one of his first official actions, Kondo advised legislators that they could not accept free tickets to a $200 fundraising event hosted by the nonprofit but politically connected Hawaii Institute for Public Affairs.

At the time, Kondo advised that accepting the tickets would violate the gift provisions of the ethics law because the value of the tickets was “substantial,” and said the “donors are lobbyists, whose interests are subject to official action by the Legislature.”

Legislators and other state employees are prohibited from soliciting or accepting gifts under circumstances were it can reasonably be inferred that the gift is intended to influence their official duties or reward them for their official actions. However, the commission had previously allowed legislators to attend these types of charitable events as guests of lobbyists or the hosting organizations.

It was just the first of a series of strict interpretations of the ethics law that the commission has adopted since Kondo took over as executive director, and key legislators have not shy about expressing their displeasure.

In response, legislators considered a bill that would have allowed them to both solicit or accept such gifts without restriction, but changed course after a strong public outcry against weakening gift restrictions.

That legislative backlash burst into the open again last month when House Speak Joe Souki sent a scathing letter to the commission, calling on commissioners to to “disavow” any rulings over the past 3 1/2 years since Kondo took over the reins of the commission that resulted in more ethics restrictions on legislators and others.

The Hawaii State Teachers Association, the union representing Hawaii’s public school teachers, and the Department of Education have added their political weight to the criticism of Kondo following a pair of controversial commission rulings.

One commission ruling called into question the free trips and related travel benefits given to teachers who organize educational trips for students by the private travel companies involved. The commission said that because teachers have been given a free hand to both select the travel companies and plan and organize the trips, the benefits are considered “gifts” subject to the restrictions of the same gifts law.

The commission’s ruling has caused confusion and has threatened to cut off student trips until the DOE works out a more ethics friendly structure for future educational travel.

And in a second ruling, the commission said candidates for offices in HSTA’s internal elections cannot distribute campaign materials using the schools’ mail system and mailboxes, reversing decades of past practice.

That has been put on hold by the Hawaii Labor Relations Board following a prohibited practice complaint filed by HSTA.

However, both the union and the DOE weighed in with critical comments directed at Kondo and the commission while Kondo’s personnel review was ongoing, although the bulk of testimony presented by individuals and organizations was strongly in support of Kondo.

Despite today’s action, Kondo’s position remains precarious. Broglio’s term on the commission expires at the end of June, and Gov. David Ige has not yet named his replacement. What’s clear is that the commission will soon have one new member and a new chair. What is not at all clear is whether the new commission majority will continue to back their director in the face of external political pressure.

About the Author

  • Ian Lind
    Ian Lind is an award-winning investigative reporter and columnist who has been blogging daily for more than 20 years. He has also worked as a newsletter publisher, public interest advocate and lobbyist for Common Cause in Hawaii, peace educator, and legislative staffer. Lind is a lifelong resident of the islands. Read his blog here. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views.