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Editorials
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Saturday, February 15, 2003



[ OUR OPINION ]

City official strays
from path of trust


THE ISSUE

Ben Lee, Mayor Harris's right-hand man, accepts city curbstones to build a walkway at his home.

PUBLIC trust requires government officials to be circumspect in avoiding even the appearance of receiving preferential considerations. City managing director Ben Lee should be particularly aware of this, having witnessed the recent problems of two City Council members and the swirl of campaign spending allegations surrounding his boss, Mayor Harris.

Yet Lee has placed himself in a vulnerable position by taking about 40 curbstones, which an official says is city property, for use at his Punchbowl-area home. That the blue-rock basalt came from a major city contractor whose company is under investigation for alleged excessive political donations to Harris's campaign raises even more suspicion. Lee can resolve the situation by returning the curbstones at his own expense.

The curbstones, which date back to Honolulu's territorial days, were delivered to Lee's residence about two years ago, by Royal Contracting Inc. Leonard Leong, a company vice president, told Star-Bulletin reporter Rick Daysog that Lee had intended to use the 12-inch thick, 2-by-3-foot curbstones to build a walkway, although he has yet to do so. Lee did not pay for the materials, nor did he report them as a gift to the Ethics Commission.

Leong, who is chairman of the Honolulu Police Commission, contends the curbstones have no value. However, paving contractors say Hawaii blue rock costs about $18 for a 1.5-inch-thick square foot and is generally used at upscale homes. Leong also maintains that the curbstones were the company's property, but a city official says contractors who remove such curbstones typically are required to return them to the city for reuse.

Leong says that although the company's employees delivered the stones to Lee's home, Lee paid for the work himself and that work done at Lee's home was unrelated to any city jobs for which the company was contracted.

Be that as it may, it appears that Lee may have taken advantage of his position of power for his private gain and, true or not, the impression made upon taxpayers continues to erode public confidence already worn by the recent convictions of former Council members Rene Mansho and Andy Mirikitani.

Lee, who often acts as the mayor's surrogate, would do himself and the mayor a favor by giving back the materials and paying for any related costs.


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Big Brother receives
setback in Congress


THE ISSUE

Congressional negotiators have agreed to withdraw authority for a Pentagon database of information on U.S. citizens.

AMERICANS can feel more secure with the knowledge that their own government is not likely to be spying on them. An appropriations amendment that Senator Inouye helped draft should end an overly ambitious Pentagon project aimed at detecting terrorists by monitoring people's personal information from e-mail and commercial databases. House and Senate conferees have agreed to put severe restrictions on the project.

The legislation that created the Homeland Security Department last November included a provision allowing a Defense Department agency to "mine" people's private lives through a project called Total Information Awareness. The system was designed to provide intelligence analysts and law-enforcement officials with access to people's e-mail, credit card records, banking transactions and travel documents without search warrants.

The project raised concerns not only about its intrusive activities but about the person in charge -- retired Adm. John Poindexter, who was convicted in 1990 of lying to Congress about weapons sales to Iran and illegal aid to Nicaraguan rebels. The reversal of his conviction on the ground that he had been given immunity for the false testimony did not ease concerns about Poindexter operating a spy operation on Americans.

Senator Inouye joined Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Dianne Feinstein of California a month ago in drafting an amendment to an omnibus spending bill to rein in the project. Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa signed on as a cosponsor of the amendment and Senate Appropriations Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, nodded his approval.

The amendment, as approved by House and Senate negotiators, forbids Poindexter's project to spy on U.S. citizens. It also requires the Defense Department to provide a detailed report to Congress within 90 days on the project's costs, goals, effect on privacy and civil liberties and prospects for success against terrorists.

The amendment also requires all research conducted by the agency -- including monitoring abroad in support of lawful military operations and against non-U.S. citizens -- be halted until after the report is filed. President Bush could allow the research to resume by certifying that failure to do so "would endanger the national security of the United States." The president would be wise instead to scale back the project and put somebody else in charge.



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Published by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press.

Don Kendall, Publisher

Frank Bridgewater, Editor 529-4791; fbridgewater@starbulletin.com
Michael Rovner, Assistant Editor 529-4768; mrovner@starbulletin.com
Lucy Young-Oda, Assistant Editor 529-4762; lyoungoda@starbulletin.com

Mary Poole, Editorial Page Editor, 529-4748; mpoole@starbulletin.com
John Flanagan, Contributing Editor 294-3533; jflanagan@starbulletin.com

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