Hawaii Tribune-Herlad, Thursday, July 12, 2012
Isle residents sound off on councilmembers’ absences
By HUNTER BISHOP, Tribune-herald staff writer
The matter of a couple of missing council members was on the Ethics Board’s agenda Wednesday. Terri Napeahi of Keaukaha filed a complaint with the board in June because when she testifies at Hawaii County Council meetings, members Donald Ikeda and Dennis Onishi often are absent, she said.
Napeahi, vice president of the Pele Defense Fund, which opposes the development of geothermal energy resources, cited attendance figures compiled by County Council Chairman Dominic Yagong that show Onishi missing about 30 percent of the 1,557 votes taken between Dec. 6, 2010, and April 18, 2012, while Ikeda missed about 23 percent of the votes during the same time period.
But when only three of five Ethics Board members attended Wednesday’s meeting, and two of them declared conflicts of interest, there weren’t enough members for a quorum to discuss Napeahi’s complaint.
Ethics Board Vice Chairman David Heaukulani and member Glen Hisashima both cited long friendships with and political support of one or both of the council members as conflicts of interest in recusing themselves from the vote.
Heaukulani said he is Onishi’s friend and that he worked on both council members’ election campaigns. “It’s important not to have that conflict,” he said.
Hisashima said he regularly visits Onishi’s office to discuss county issues, and that his father and Ikeda’s father were business partners. “I want to avoid any sign of impropriety,” he said. “I don’t like anyone saying I favored one side or the other. I recuse myself because of transparency.”
Board Chairman John Dill said one of the two missing board members at Wednesday’s meeting was out of the country and the other is ill. Then he allowed 10 people in the audience to offer testimony despite the board’s inability to act on the complaint on Wednesday.
Anti-geothermal activist Robert Petricci said that the people testifying have to take off work to attend council meetings, and that tax dollars pay Onishi to attend these meetings. “I got a problem with that. I hope you clear up the rules.”
Terri Marx said it “irritates” her that the two council members sometimes only show up at the meetings just in time to cast a vote.
“This is their paid position. It’s extremely offensive that (Ikeda) votes without hearing public testimony.”
Gary Oamilda of Ka‘u, one of several testifiers wearing Pele Defense Fund T-shirts, said he sometimes travels from his home to Hilo to testify. “It’s common respect to give me full attention,” he said. “Let me know that you’re hearing my words and know my feelings.”
One testifier spoke on Onishi’s behalf. Pearl Haili of Panaewa said the councilman has worked hard in her district to provide recreational facilities for youth.
“I’m here to let you know the good job that he did,” Haili said.
Napeahi filed the complaint even though she recognizes there’s nothing in the County Code of Ethics that regulates council members’ attendance at meetings.
She expects the board to reject the complaint whenever a quorum is ready to vote. Yet she wanted to raise the issue anyway. “It’s not personal.”
Still she is skeptical about the council members’ claims that when not in the council chambers, they are watching the meetings on their computers via live video feed from the council chambers. “How do we know that?”
“I’m really discouraged,” Napeahi said. “Who can I complain to at the next level? We’re here because the environment is important to our lives. People take off work from personal jobs. There’s nothing in the Code of Ethics. What do you do?” Napeahi urged the board to “come up with a process. Change the structure.”
“Traditional and spiritually customary practice is not being respected,” Napeahi said. “When I come here I want people to hear me.”
Onishi, who represents the 4th Council district, and Ikeda, who represents the 1st district, attended the meeting but declined to address the board when given the opportunity.
Onishi said after the meeting, however, that in an analysis published by Stephens Media in 2009, Yagong missed 27.9 percent of the 340 total votes taken during the first 16 council meetings held in the 2009- 10 council session. Yagong blamed the absences on his career as a supermarket manager at the time.
The matter of the missing council members was postponed to the Aug. 8 meeting of the Ethics Board.
Email Hunter Bishop at firstname.lastname@example.org.