Honolulu City Councilwoman Andria Tupola likely violated city ethics laws when she tried to use $1,500 in city funds to reimburse herself for items purchased for her former employer’s events, the Honolulu Ethics Commission has determined.

The West Oahu representative bought “banners, chairs and promotional materials for Covid-19 vaccination and testing events” hosted by the company she worked for, S&G Labs Hawaii, according to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. She then sought reimbursement for the items using city funds in August and September, according to an Ethics Commission’s opinion issued Wednesday.

Honolulu City Council member Andria Tupola speaks during council meeting held at Honolulu Hale.
Honolulu City Council member Andria Tupola has paid most of the money back. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

“Because (Tupola) has a financial interest and, hence, a conflict of interest, (she) should not have sought reimbursement with city funds,” the opinion said.

It added that the first request was processed from Tupola’s City Council discretionary account – each council member gets a $25,000 annual allowance – but a second request was denied by “an overseeing officer” who asserted Tupola had a conflict of interest. Tupola then contacted the Ethics Commission for its advice, the opinion stated.

The Ethics Commission determined that Tupola had a conflict of interest, likely violated the city’s fair and equal treatment law and should repay the money.

Tupola paid back $1,119 and will give the city chairs she purchased for the event, valued at $400, her office told the Star-Advertiser.

In a statement, Tupola said she sought the advice of outside legal counsel about the reimbursement and was told that it was fine because many groups were participating in the event, there was “no preference” for her former employer and S&G didn’t have any city contracts.

Despite that advice, Tupola said she still contacted Ethics Director Jan Yamane to “further clarify any conflicts of interest,” Tupola said. Yamane suggested the matter be brought before the commission for an official written ruling, according to Tupola.

“Upon receiving the ruling, Councilmember Tupola’s staff members reimbursed the city for purchase for zip ties, cones, rebar, flyers, and water for community events where her former employer was the primary participant,” Tupola said.

“In these unprecedented times, I needed to get resources to my community who did not have access to testing and vaccination events. I am not perfect but my priority is always serving my community. I will continue to run any future questions or situations through the commission as a matter of good practice,” she added.

The opinion doesn’t name Tupola directly. Instead, it refers to her as a “City Officer.” Ethics Commission counsel Laura Wong-Nowinski said that’s because it came to the office as a request for an advisory opinion, not a complaint about an ethics violation.

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