Wong a popular choice
to oversee campaign spending
The former assistant police chief and
attorney is drawn back into public service
After fulfilling her dream to become an attorney, former Honolulu Assistant Police Chief Barbara Uphouse Wong says she realized she missed public service.
So when she saw newspaper ads announcing that the state Campaign Spending Commission was looking for a new executive director, Wong applied.
Yesterday, she was announced as the unanimous selection of the five-person commission and will succeed Bob Watada as executive director.
"I decided after practicing law for a short time, I enjoyed administrative work and that public service still ran in my blood," Wong said after yesterday's commission meeting.
Wong starts Oct. 1 at the $94,000-a-year job and serves at the pleasure of the five-member commission.
During her 28 years at HPD, Wong went from being a patrol officer, to working in dispatch to heading up the white-collar crime unit before becoming an assistant chief in charge of human resources, finances and officer training.
After retiring in 2000, Wong attended the University of Hawaii law school, graduating magna cum laude.
Randy Roth, law school professor, said Wong impressed him "as much or more than anyone else I have met. She is smart, she has excellent judgment and she knows how to work with people."
Roth said Wong, who was one of the first two women to join HPD in 1972, would not have risen to the rank of assistant chief "if she didn't have the ability and can-do attitude."
The 10-year veteran whom Wong replaces, Bob Watada, also had strong praise for her.
"I think she will do a very good job; she has shown that whatever she has done in the past she has done solid work," Watada said.
Experience tracing the money in white-collar crime cases will help in her new position, Wong says.
"What you are doing in an investigation of campaign contribution violations, expenditure violations, is tracing the money," Wong said.
"Enforcement is a big part of the job, and as with any law, if there isn't consistent enforcement, you will have people who fall by the wayside and decide that maybe they can violate it and get away with it," Wong said.
Her other major responsibility will be to make the data collected on how candidates raise and spend their money available to the public.
"Transparency is critical. The public needs to know about the contributions their candidates are receiving, and they need to know if they are donating, how the candidate is spending their money," Wong said.
One of her first jobs will be to make the commission's Web site more user-friendly.
"The more we can get the information up quickly, the more voters will be better informed and they can make better decisions when they vote," Wong said.
Former colleagues, such as Michael Tanoue, who worked with Wong at the Pacific Law Group, praised Wong's dedication.
"I believe she will serve the commission well with her sense of fairness and justice," Tanoue said.
Wong was prevented from becoming involved in political campaigns while working for the police.
"I am not really a political person, and I think that is a good thing. Our job on the commission is to enforce the law fairly and effectively and provide information to the public. To me, politics is irrelevant," Wong said.
When she is off work, Wong says her family is most important.