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Thursday, June 26, 2003



Business edits notice
after HFD complaint

Hawaiian Eye Center had issued
a release about free eye surgery
it gave to firefighters




CORRECTION

Friday, June 27, 2003

>> Kauai County Fire Chief Charles Hiramoto said he did not see any problem with a news release announcing a donation of free eye surgery to Hawaii firefighters. In a story on Page A7 yesterday, Hiramoto was incorrectly referred to as Maui County fire chief, and his last name was incorrectly spelled Hironaka.



The Honolulu Star-Bulletin strives to make its news report fair and accurate. If you have a question or comment about news coverage, call Editor Frank Bridgewater at 529-4791 or email him at fbridgewater@starbulletin.com.


Hawaiian Eye Center changed a news release it issued last week announcing its donation of free eye surgery to Hawaii firefighters after Honolulu Fire Department officials complained that testimonials by firefighters might be mistaken as endorsements.

The original release, issued June 16, named 15 Hawaii firefighters who received the corrective laser eye surgery and included testimonials from five of them.

The five are identified by their rank and station. Three are from HFD, one is from the Maui Fire Department on Molokai and one is from the Kauai Fire Department.

The new release, issued three days later, still names all 15 firefighters but identifies the five whose testimonials are included as members of their union, Hawaii Fire Fighters Association.

HFD officials requested the change.

"It was a question of us endorsing a product," said Capt. Kenison Tejada, department spokesman.

This is not the first time HFD has had to respond to possible conflicts of interest by its employees. Fire Chief Attilio Leonardi disciplined Tejada's predecessor, Capt. Richard Soo, and reassigned him after Soo appeared in television commercials endorsing Linda Lingle for governor before last November's election.

Soo, who was regularly quoted in news reports because of his duties as HFD spokesman, was identified in one commercial as a captain in a Hawaii fire department. Soo resumed his spokesman duties following the election but retired in January.

Two recent fast-food television commercials featured Hawaii firefighters, but no action was taken because no department was identified, Tejada said.

City Ethics Commission Executive Director Chuck Totto also expressed concern over the original Hawaiian Eye Centers release.

"It may look as though the firefighters were being used in an advertisement for a particular service," he said.

Totto said the original release did not violate the city conflicts of interest law, but was "borderline" and so raised the issue.

Section 11-102 of the Revised Charter of Honolulu and Section 3-8.7(b) of the Revised Ordinances of Honolulu prohibit employees from accepting gifts under circumstances in which it can reasonably be inferred that the gift is intended to influence employees in the performance of their official duties or as a reward for any official action.

The ethics laws of Maui and Kauai counties contain similar language.

Maui fire Chief Charles Hironaka did not see any problem with the original release. He said the donation was accepted by the union on behalf of its members, and the surgery was performed on the firefighter's own time.

Dr. Christopher Tortora, the owner of Hawaiian Eye Center, made the offer last year in recognition of firefighters' service to the community on the first anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"The fact is, we provided that service," he said. "We didn't expect anything from them (the firefighters). We're just happy to be able to help."

Tortora made the offer to the HFFA, which published it in its member newsletter.

Forty firefighters statewide responded to the offer. After screening all 40, the 15 selected were deemed the best candidates for the surgery, Tortora said.

The procedures were done late last year and early this year by Dr. Douglas Chu. The total cost is between $45,000 and $50,000, or at least $1,500 for each eye.

City law prohibits employees from accepting gifts from a single source exceeding $200 in value per year.

Totto said the ban does not apply in this case because firefighters' duties do not affect the interests of the donor.

The other three counties do not have limits on the value of gifts employees can receive.



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