Honolulu Ethics Commission Wants to Double Its Resources to Fight Public Corruption

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REPORT FROM THE HONOLULU ETHICS COMMISSION – The Honolulu Ethics Commission strives to elevate the integrity of the City workforce to earn and maintain the public’s trust.  The City’s ethical culture is fostered through training and advice that supports the vast majority of honest City employees who take seriously their responsibilities toHonolulu’s citizens.  “But a hard fact of government life is that some officials will not follow the law, making it critical to investigate and act against abuse by violators,” said Chuck Totto, the Commission’s Executive Director and Legal Counsel.

A government’s commitment to ethics is revealed by the resources dedicated to the task.  By this measure, the Ethics Commission has been on a forced diet — only three employees and a $270,000 budget to cover the ethics issues of 8,500 employees. 


“The demand for our services has outstripped our resources, leading to important public integrity issues being shortchanged,” said Totto.  For example, the Commission has not had resources to consistently respond to ethics complaints on a timely basis.  Nor has it been able to audit the financial disclosures of City leaders or lobbyists.  In fact, the lobbyist law has not been examined in its 38-year existence. 

In addition, the Commission’s workload continues to skyrocket.  In the last five years, the number of investigated complaints increased by 233%.  Further, a newly enacted law requires mandatory ethics training for all 8,500 City employees.  Because more training results in more ethics questions and complaints, it is anticipated that this new training requirement will further increase requests for advice and complaints by at least another fifty percent. 

The Honolulu Police Department (HPD) exemplifies that ethics is a vital priority by allocating $1.6 million to the Police Commission and the Professional Standards Office to examine alleged administrative (not criminal) misconduct by HPD’s 2000 officers.  HPD’s administrative misconduct cases are similar to ethics complaints handled by the Commission.  HPD uses six times the funds that are allotted to the Ethics Commission, and HPD only has jurisdiction over one-quarter the number of employees that the Commission does.  

“The Ethics Commission wants to continue to guide and assist honest public officials and combat corruption, but it takes funding to do so.  If the Commission isn’t equipped with the resources needed to meet the workload trajectory, the Commission will be forced to cut back on its services.  The loss will be felt by the public and the City workforce, who correctly expect the Commission to carry out its duties in an effective and timely manner,” commented Totto.  The Commission looks to the new Administration and the Council to provide the Commission with resources to do its job.  The Commission has offered a resource plan to the Administration.