***Commentary*** About Today’s Ethics Hearing And The Public’s Right To Know

By Tiffany Edwards Hunt

I just watched and listened to the County of Hawaii Ethics Board hearing on a livestream broadcast.  The board, after much deliberation, deferred petition No. 2015-03.  The petition alleged Mayor Billy Kenoi and Finance Director Deannaimage Sako violated the ethics code as a result of the mayor’s alleged inappropriate p card spending and Sako’s alleged negligence and / or lack of oversight in the alleged inappropriate p card spending.

Ethics board members ultimately decided to allow an Attorney General’s investigation to occur before they take up the matter. All that was fine and proper in my opinion.  What stood out to me, though, was the fact that Ken Goodenow, who is active in the Hawaii County Democratic Party and who is a former Hawaii County clerk, mid the chairman of the Ethics board and didn’t bother to recuse himself.  Whenever he would say something, I would think to myself, why didn’t he recuse himself from participating this meeting?  The appearance of impropriety on a meeting alleging impropriety is just the epitome of irony.

When Goodenow called out Kerri Petersen Marks for filming the proceeding too close to where the Ethics board members were sitting, I just got unnerved.  I don’t have the time or resources to go spend a couple of hours in the Hilo Council Chambers, listening to that Ethics board hearing.  In fact, as I was watching and listening to the hearing live-streaming via the Internet, I was getting some much-needed work done in my office. To have Goodenow hassle the one person who is making a point to get the hearing filmed and accessed to the public, when Goodenow shouldn’t even be chairing the meeting, well, that is just plain out of hand!

It seems like Goodenow is totally out of touch with the fact that this government is by and for the people, that that Ethics board is actually a board that ultimately answers to the public.  Petersen Marks is practicing journalism by filming meetings such as the one he chaired, and she has every right to be there filming.  The Hilo Council Chambers is a place that all members of the public have a right to be in, unless the meeting is an executive session, and my understanding is that Ethics board hearing never went into executive session.  For Goodenow to flex his muscles like that, recalling the fact that he used to be the clerk and what the rules were about filming when he served as the clerk, it just really rubbed me the wrong way.

I suggest that Goodenow and every single member of every single board and commission, the County Council, and the County Clerk’s Office do some major soul searching on what exactly they are doing over there at 25 Aupuni Street.  This is not an oligarchy in Hawaii County, this is a democracy, or at least an illusion of a democracy.  Cronyism is rampant and that was so obvious to me today when Goodenow chose not to recuse himself. As one of the few working journalists here on the island, I need to take a stand against any effort to intimidate or harass other working journalists who are trying to ensure the public’s right to know, merely filming a meeting that is supposed to be open to the public and about the public’s interest. Get it together, County 0f Hawaii.

14 replies
  1. joy cash
    joy cash says:

    Thank goodness there still exist journalists who are unafraid to report to public the workings of government. Thank you to Kerri Petersen Marks and all others who are helping preserve what’s left of our freedom of press.

    Too often we have seen elected public civil servants forget their roles in serving public good. In these times, we must insist upon our civil servants serving our community’s interests over corrupt politics of the past.

  2. Feliciano
    Feliciano says:

    I do not understand the concern over Goodenow. Kenoi ran as a non-partisan candidate, not as a democrat. Goodenow was County Clerk more than four years ago and was not the Clerk during the past two election cycles. As Clerk, Goodenow, was not a mayoral appointee but appointed by the County Council. Under this rationale, then anyone active in the Republican or Green Party would need to recuse themselves since they did not embrace or support Kenoi as a party. Since they barely have quorum, anyone recusing themselves would render the Ethics Board unable to meet on the issue. For that matter, Harry Kim is a member of the Democratic Party as were Yagong and Hoffman, although all ran non-partisan. As far as I can recall, the Democratic party did not take a position between Harry Kim , Dominic Yagong or Kenoi as all are democrats.

  3. Robert Petricci
    Robert Petricci says:

    Thanks Tiffany for recognizing Kerri’s contributions. Kerri Petersen Marks does an invaluable service for the residents of Hawaii County, and she does it on her own dime. The fact is the county should welcome and recognize her formally for the community service she provides.

    County ethics chairman Goodenow should be grateful for Kerri’s unique ability to get done what they themselves are incompetent to do even with far superior resources.

    Mahalo Kerri, keep it up, we appreciate you plenty, even if the ethics chair is unhappy about the public being able to watch what he does in real time.

    IMO any attempt to interfere with the transparency Kerri brings to the table seems unethical in itself.

    It would be hard to argue the ethics chair is not part of the old boys club or the machine what ever you prefer. No matter how you slice it by political affiliation, he is in the Kenoi, old boy, democratic club.

    When he was the county clerk I testified before the council many times. From those interactions I believe Kenny is part of the machine and all in. To each his own I say, however IMO he is a poor choice for the ethics board that is charged with in part keeping the machine’s politicians on moral footing.

    Compromising possible conflicts to achieve quorum doesn’t seem the solution. I would rather have board members that are not so close to the administration, and the old boys, as to have those conflicts to begin with.

  4. Dennis
    Dennis says:

    Feliciano expressed my thoughts (and reasons why), exactly. I, too, don’t see the issue or any reason for concern regarding Mr. Goodenow fulfilling his duties on the County Board of Ethics while hearing this particular petition. To be sure, ethics – and even the perception of – a conflict of interest are important matters but it’s a stretch to signal that such a conflict exists here.
    Ms. Edwards Hunt states that she was “unnerved” when Mr. Goodenow rasied a concern about a situation in the gallery. That’s a personal reaction but to extract and surmise, then, that he “is totally out of touch with the fact that this government is by and for the people” is extreme and an unfair label to place upon Mr. Goodenow. (During that situation, from my vantage point, Mr. Goodenow did not make any attempt to prevent filming or picture-taking, nor was he trying to have anyone removed from the public meeting. He simply questioned where the particular journalist was standing at that time since it, apparently, was in the staff area and expressed the need to be fair to all media.
    We muddy the goal of public confidence when we make broad character attacks instead of focusing on the merits. And, in this case, the merits do not suffice a rational need for Mr. Goodenow to recuse himself nor did his behavior during the meeting portend that he didn’t understand his role on the Board.
    Additionally, while this was a “commentary”, it is important to make accurate statements. Mr. Goodenow was not acting in the capacity of Chairperson during this meeting. Board Member Ku Kahakalau is Chair and served as such at the May 13 meeting referenced.

  5. Tiffany Edwards Hunt
    Tiffany Edwards Hunt says:

    I apologize profusely and have corrected my errors above. But at this point I stand by my position. Goodenow should have recused himself and it was wrong of him to call out Kerri Petersen Marks like he did.
    If the County of Hawaii wants to paint some white lines on the Council Chambers carpet, fine. But to interrupt the meeting to object to a camera position, come on!
    This is a commentary. This is my position upon observing through through live stream internet, which is how most productive people in this democracy can access local government. That needs to be the foremost consideration, in making rules about where to paint the white lines. The public has a right to know what is being said at the county Ethics hearing. And we need more than three people on our Ethics board, so people can properly recuse themselves. Who is willing to step up and represent?

  6. James Weatherford
    James Weatherford says:

    Kenneth Goodenow as a member of the Ethics Commission is so-o-o-o perverse.

  7. Kenneth Goodenow
    Kenneth Goodenow says:

    A member of the staff was concerned that Ms. Marks was standing right above an area that had confidential documents on it that were placed there for the upcoming executive session. Board members and staff should also have some privacy – not that Ms. Marks would deliberately try to photograph someone’s notes, but that area has consistently been considered a staff area for a reason. I have never had an issue with Ms. Marks and I surely applaud her efforts to live stream meetings. I appreciate her wanting to take a good photo, but apparently others were not allowed to set up their cameras in that very location.

    As for recusal, I was appointed prior to knowing anything about the P-Card situation. Prior to serving, I resigned as treasurer of the Democratic Party to ensure that I would not have any management role in a political organization. I have never played an active role in the Kenoi campaign (though I did sign wave on one occasion). I volunteered to serve on a board or commission as there was a shortage of people willing to serve. At this point, as there are only three members of the Ethics Board, two seats being vacant, if I recused myself, the Board would have been unable to take any action as there would be no majority.

    I know no reason why Mr. Petricci or Mr. Weatherford feel I am an old boy or unethical, especially as the clerk, in the case of the Council, performs a purely ministerial function. In addition, after a thorough review of the 2010 election, there were found to be no irregularities during my tenure as chief election officer. Putting forward such generalizations will only discourage people from volunteering.

  8. Dennis
    Dennis says:

    Thank you for making the correction regarding Mr. Goodenow acting as chair, Tiffany.

    While we disagree, specifically, on the need for Mr. Goodenow to recuse himself in this situation, I do agree with your suggestion for some soul-searching in County government. As far as I konw, a little of that never hurt anyone. And, perhaps, we all should do some soul-searching in the choices we make on whom we elect into office and how.

    There’s also a useful, overarching issue worth exploring here on the structure and formation of the Board of Ethics. In today’s sad political climate of cynicism, disengagement and voter apathy, a board that ensures and enforces ethical standards is so vital. Given that this Board may have to oversee petitions from the public directly naming the county’s elected officials, how can we better remove the political dynamic so there’s less questions of conflict? Is the current design of mayor appoints, council approves best? No easy answers. And Mr. Goodenow raises the point of how difficult it is to find good volunteers.

    But what does it matter if the Board is ineffective anyhow? The comments from the State Attorney General on the Board’s decision in today’s Star Advertiser are interesting. He essentially found it, not only unnecessary, but unusual for them to have deferred action until his department’s investigation.

    I do feel at least a little more scrutinization by the Council of the candidates put forth by any Mayor rather than the historically somewhat rubber stamp approach would help. For example, future candidates for this board could be asked how they would view, handle, act on similar petiitons. It’s better than “thank you for your willingness to serve” and let’s vote. A couple council members in recent past have tried to be more thorough but not enough.

    And if not enough citizens are coming forth to serve – if it isn’t already doing so – perhaps the Administration needs to identify and approach individuals that would be a good fit and ask. or cast a wider net.

  9. Cheryl King
    Cheryl King says:

    The Ethics Commission is due for an overhaul. Over the past several years, I have observed that the commissioners were all from the Hilo/East side area. Until the appointment of Ku, they were all men. Other commissions have many more members and meet all over the island. Why not this one? (They can huddle in executive session with the attorney on the West side just as well as on the East.)

    To avoid the conflict of interest we have just seen (all the Ethics Commissioners having been appointed by the Mayor), I propose that Council members, not the mayor, recruit a person from their district to serve on the Ethics Board and that meetings be held on different sides of the island to make them more accessible. And, yes, they should be filmed.

    Councilmembers, please change the way Ethics Commissioners are chosen and increase the number!

  10. Tiffany Edwards Hunt
    Tiffany Edwards Hunt says:

    Ken Goodenow: thank you for participating in this discussion. I appreciate your willingness to do so.
    Dennis and Cheryl, your comments give a lot of pause for thought. We really do need to overhaul the structure of the Board of Ethics.
    I want to say, Ken, and the other two Ethics board members, thank you for your willingness to serve.
    I am having a lot of online and offline conversations about the fact that I think Kenny should have recused himself. Some people agree with me; some disagree. I think the dialogue is healthy. I also think we need to be talking about the media, the new era of journalism, where everyone can act like a journalist, and define those white lines, literally or figuratively, so staff don’t have to feel unnerved that a camera person may be recording his / her note taking, but also so that that camera person has the ability to get the shot, whether it is for the nightly news or a live stream broadcast on the Internet.
    Thanks to all of you seeking solutions.

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *