FINAL REPORT OF THE COMMISSION TO IMPROVE STANDARDS OF CONDUCT
Submitted to the House of Representatives on December 1, 2022 by Commission to Improve Standards of Conduct
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Over the past decade Hawaii has experienced several societal concerns, such as homelessness, affordable housing, overtourism and reliance on a tourism-centric economy, climate change mitigation and adaptation, traffic congestion, substance abuse, crime, and a large economic divide. However, in 2022, incidents involving a few state and county government officials and private individuals who work closely with government institutions became one of the most glaring and embarrassing societal concerns in Hawaii, as they seemed to reveal deep-rooted systemic and institutional problems and lapses in moral judgment or integrity in the character of certain individuals.
On February 8, 2022, Hawaii grabbed national headlines when the U.S. Department of Justice charged a former State Senator and a sitting State Representative with the offense of honest services wire fraud – an offense punishable by up to 20 years of imprisonment and up to a $250,000 fine. The former Senator and sitting Representative plead guilty to the charges shortly thereafter. Hawaii has recently endured other high-profile acts of criminal conduct on each island of the State.
Specific charges in these cases include the following:
• Fraud by a former housing specialist at the Hawaii County Office of Housing and Community Development, along with conspiracy by three other private individuals;
• Drug trafficking conspiracy, distribution of methamphetamine, and assault by a Kauai County councilman;
• Conspiracy by the Honolulu Police Chief and his Deputy Prosecutor wife, along with conspiracy to hide public funds by Honolulu's Corporation Counsel, Managing Director, and Chairperson of the Honolulu Police Commission;
• Conspiracy against the former Honolulu Prosecutor and several employees of an engineering firm;
• Bribery by a Honolulu businessman and a former Maui County Director of Environmental Management;
• Bribery by five current or former employees of Honolulu's Department of Planning and Permitting, along with one architect; and
• Embezzlement and fraud by the former union leader of Honolulu's International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1260 and two of his family members.
In addition, an October 2022 follow-up report to a 2019 audit of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs completed by an independent tax and audit firm revealed potential instances of fraud by former top officials at the Office of Hawaiian Affairs totaling more than $7.3 million.
Thus, the acts of a few individuals have led many to believe that a deep moral crisis exists throughout each corner of the State. This moral crisis has led the Commission to Improve Standards of Conduct (Commission) to believe that Hawaii is at a critical juncture in regard to restoring public trust in government and reforming areas of the law related to issues such as corruption, fraud, ethics, elections, and campaign finance. The Commission finds that given the current circumstances, beginning with the reprehensible, dishonest acts of a few and leading to the creation of the Commission by House Resolution No. 9, Regular Session of 2022 (House Resolution), now is the time for the Commission and the public to steer the Legislature toward reform in these areas of the law and redirect elected officials, public servants, and private citizens toward "true north" values of honesty, public service, and ethical behavior to rebuild integrity and public trust in government.
At the direction of the House Resolution (Appendix A), the Commission convened regularly for over nine months in 2022 to diligently discuss a myriad of topics related to the conduct of individuals and operations of government. An essential goal of the Commission was to provide recommendations that would help restore public trust in government and increase the level of transparency in its operations and accountability of individuals by recommending clear standards of conduct and enforcement of the law. The Commission initially convened on February 22, 2022 and set out an ambitious agenda to accomplish the mission set out in the House Resolution. The agenda included preparation of an Interim Report (Appendix D) with findings and recommendations submitted to the House of Representatives five weeks later on March 31, 2022, with the hope that the Commission's recommendations would be passed by the Legislature during the Regular Session of 2022.
The timing of submitting the Interim Report enabled the Legislature to pass seven of the Commission's recommendations, five of which were subsequently enacted by the Governor. Although the Commission achieved some success with its recommendations in the Interim Report, the Commission felt there was much more work to undertake to fulfill its objectives. With a strong sense of motivation and urgency, the Commission reconvened two weeks later to begin its deliberations and work toward this Final Report.
In contrast to the Commission meetings prior to submission of the Interim Report, the Commission meetings for this Final Report took place in public at the State Capitol and were streamed live on the Internet, with recordings also made available to the public on the Internet. The public was invited to submit written and oral testimony at each meeting, and the Commission invited certain third-party individuals and organizations with expertise on agenda items under consideration to help vet the Commission's recommendations and legislative proposals
The Commission identified potential solutions to deter and prevent acts such as those that catalyzed the creation of the Commission. In this Final Report, the Commission offers 31 legislative proposals intended to strengthen laws relating to fraud, corruption, criminal investigations, campaign spending and contributions, elections, ethics, openness of government operations, and transparency in the operations of each legislative chamber. Each legislative proposal is important and has a specific objective. The Commission believes that adoption of these 31 legislative proposals by the Legislature during the Regular Session of 2023, and subsequent enactment by the Governor, will appropriately punish individuals who violate the law or certain standards of conduct in the future and help recalibrate the moral compass of elected officials, public servants, and private citizens who engage with state and county governments The Commission senses the significance of this pivotal point in time and recognizes a tremendous opportunity to mend the relationship between the public and its government. The Commission has heeded exhortations by the public to be bold in its recommendations and proposals and urges elected officials at the Legislature to likewise take bold action, strongly consider each request in this Final Report, and timely and decisively act to turn the tide of public sentiment toward trust in government with integrity and honorable public service.
PDF: Read Full Report
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