Some state workers are continuing to accept free rounds of golf despite the Hawaii State Ethics Commission cracking down on the longstanding practice.
The commission dove into the issue in July 2013 with an advisory statement that said, in bold letters, “absent extraordinary and rare circumstances, the Commission construes the State Ethics Code to prohibit state employees and legislators from accepting complimentary golf.”
Four months later, the commission fined a state Department of Transportation engineer $7,500 for accepting thousands of dollars worth of golf tournament entry fees and prizes, which included a Rolex watch and Oakley sunglasses. DOT vendors Mitsunaga & Associates and TM Designers gave him the gifts.
State employees reported receiving more free golf tournament entries despite the Ethics Commission’s advice against accepting golf gifts.
The commission went on to investigate more than four dozen state employees accepting free golf from a host of contractors, consultants and major vendors doing business with the state. By last February the commission had fined at least 30 public workers a total of more than $40,000.
The commission identified 26 businesses providing the gifts, including KAI Hawaii, Parsons Brinckerhoff and Bowers + Kubota. Many of the firms have had multi-million-dollar contracts with the state.
On the latest round of gift disclosure statements, which were due June 30, more free golf is being reported. But this time, it’s a labor union providing the gifts.
Hawaii Ethics Executive Director Les Kondo has cautioned state employees to not accept free rounds of golf.
Amura is a right-of-way agent and Kunishige is a high-level engineer.
It’s not the first time Kunishige has accepted free golf. Last year, he reported more than $1,500 in golf gifts that three different firms gave him from 2010 to 2012.
HGEA spokeswoman Caroline Sluyter said Monday that the union “doesn’t have business with the state in the same manner as companies who compete for state contracts.”
“HGEA does support the community based social service organization Palama Settlement by contributing to its charity golf tournament, which raises money to support its programs,” she said in an email.
The difference between a public worker union and a private firm providing the free golf is an important distinction. Unions were not on the list of entities providing free golf several years ago that led to employees being fined.
A key question that the Ethics Commission considers in determining whether a gift violates the law is whether it is “reasonable to infer” the gift is intended to influence or reward official action.
During its meeting Wednesday, the commission reviewed the types of gifts that a number of employees had reported this year, but no decisions were made.
“The commission has directed staff to gather more information to determine whether the gifts were appropriate under the state Ethics Code,” said Les Kondo, the commission’s executive director.
DOT spokesman Tim Sakahara could not be reached for comment Monday.
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