As Honolulu Council Chair Ikaika Anderson departs city hall and starts working for a local union, one of his council colleagues is calling for an ethics investigation into his acceptance of the job and the nomination of his staff member to serve out the remainder of his term.
Councilwoman Heidi Tsuneyoshi held a press conference on Thursday afternoon to announce she’d filed two complaints with the Honolulu Ethics Commission.
“The concerns I have include but are not limited to the fact that Council Chair Anderson … has made many very important decisions regarding the rail project, which is very connected to Local Union 630, Plasterers & Cement Masons,” she said.
Francisco Figueiredo, Anderson’s executive assistant, said on Thursday afternoon that Anderson could not respond because he hadn’t yet read Tsuneyoshi’s complaint. However, Anderson rejected the idea that he had done anything improper in an interview last week.
“I haven’t done anything at the behest of Local 630,” he said then. “I support skilled labor. Always have. I don’t hide that fact.”
Tsuneyoshi’s first ethics complaint concerns what she believes could be a conflict of interest. It questions whether Anderson used his position to help Local 630, the plasterers and cement masons union, while he was considering working for them.
The councilwoman pointed to several council bills that benefitted the construction trades including bonds floated for the rail as well as the capital improvement budgets for the city and the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation.
She also noted the approval of legislation on community workforce agreements, which requires union labor on all public works projects over $2 million.
“Legislation on Community Workforce Agreements (CWA) was also strongly supported by Chair Anderson and Local Union 630 and met with strong resistance from private contractors who cited concerns for creating an unfair playing field and removing the competitive bidding process from City contracts which greatly assists in maintaining transparency in the awarding of government contacts funded by taxpayer dollars,” Tsuneyoshi wrote in her complaint.
Tsuneyoshi’s complaint notes that Anderson and City Council Vice Chair Ann Kobayashi stopped an approved and funded forensic audit for the rail project that all members had supported.
The councilwoman is asking the ethics commission to investigate whether Anderson’s employment timeline aligns with his decision on the audit.
The city charter prohibits public officials from accepting gifts in any form, including money or promises, that one could reasonably consider an attempt to influence them.
“Chair Anderson’s promise of employment translates to financial gain which could influence his vote starting when discussions began for his employment,” Tsuneyoshi wrote.
The councilwoman also argues that Anderson should have filed a disclosure of interest statement. Anderson said last week however that such a disclosure is only necessary if a conflict arises with particular legislation.
Tsuneyoshi also took issue with Anderson’s omission of his employment plans when he announced his retirement. During his announcement, he said he was leaving to care for his grandparents.
“It should be noted that the information of his employment was not freely provided and not mentioned when specifically asked for future plans for employment,” Tsuneyoshi wrote.
In her complaint, Tsuneyoshi pointed to another city ethics rule that prohibits elected officials from appearing before the public agency they used to serve within one year of leaving their post. Anderson has said he won’t be doing any work in his new job that relates to the Honolulu City Council or Honolulu Hale.
“It behooves the Ethics Commission and all elected officials to recognize their role as public servants and not to use public office as a stepping stone to more lucrative careers,” Tsuneyoshi wrote. “On behalf of the taxpayers and future generations, I truly hope this issue is taken seriously and that this commonly held practice stops through enforcement of the Standards of Conduct.”
Tsuneyoshi’s second complaint centers on Anderson’s recommendation that the council appoint one his staff members to finish his term, which ends in January.
Initially, Anderson urged the appointment of his longtime friend and chief of staff Andrew Malahoff. However, an amended resolution swapped Malahoff out for Anderson’s deputy chief of staff, Alan Texeira, who lost the primary election for the seat last month. He was the third-place finisher.
Consideration of the resolution on Anderson’s replacement is scheduled for a special council meeting on Wednesday. Tsuneyoshi says that resolution, and another one that would make Kobayashi the new council chair, were rushed and allow for no public input.
Figueiredo said there is precedent for Anderson’s decision. When Councilman Donovan Dela Cruz left city hall, his then-staffer, Reed Matsuura, was appointed to serve the remainder of his term. Matsuura now works in Tsuneyoshi’s office.
Tsuneyoshi said she drafted an amendment that would give Anderson’s seat to Kalani Kalima, who finished fourth in the primary, but she said it never made it onto the agenda.
“Chair Anderson informed me that he would take it under advisement but would not commit that it would be posted,” she wrote.
The city charter states that when a vacancy exists, the remaining council members elect a successor, Tsuneyoshi wrote. She requested that Anderson cancel Wednesday’s special meeting and allow for the process to begin again “in a more transparent, open and collaborative way.”
Councilwoman Kym Pine backed Tsuneyoshi up on Thursday with a letter of her own to Anderson and Kobayashi. She asked her colleagues to immediately stop the appointment process.
“The current process defies Honolulu City Council tradition and more importantly, lacks community input from the very people that this member will represent,” she wrote.
When seats were temporarily vacated by former council members Charles Djou and Trevor Ozawa, the council allowed the community to nominate their replacements, Pine said. Twenty-seven candidates were nominated to fill Djou’s seat and 19 candidates were nominated to fill Ozawa’s vacancy, she wrote.
“Neither of these Councilmembers influenced the decision of the Council, and respected the public process,” she said. “The nominations then went through a public and transparent process.”
Pine said that Anderson’s announcement about his departure came as a shock and has “spawned conspiracy theories.”
“As many of our constituents are suffering through this pandemic, it is important for us as leaders to show stability and to behave in an open, transparent process that encourages our constituents to have faith in the people they elected to represent their interests,” she said.
“Now, more than ever, people need not only hope, but the belief that their council members will lead them with the utmost integrity, keeping their welfare at the top of our minds.”
Kobayashi said she didn’t think appointing Anderson’s staffer would be a big deal.
“It’s such a short period of time,” she said in reference to the remaining months in the term. “Since it’s one of his staff people who is certainly knowledgeable about the district, I just didn’t see a problem with it.”
She said she would be open to considering other appointees, but Thursday is the deadline to get someone on Wednesday’s meeting agenda.
Kobayashi said she was surprised by Tsuneyoshi’s ethics complaints.
“Now is the time we should all be working together and trying to get through this,” she said. “I didn’t think there was anything wrong, but I think it’s good if the ethics commission rules on it.”
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