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Tam to pay $13,700 for abusing contingency funds


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POSTED: Friday, March 05, 2010

City Councilman Rod Tam has been relieved of all committee assignment duties and will have to receive prior approval before using the money in his Council contingency fund following an Ethics Commission report detailing his improper use of those funds.

Tam agreed to pay $13,700 to settle the complaint, Council Chairman Todd Apo announced yesterday. The amount includes a $2,000 civil fine.

Apo said he met with Tam yesterday after the release of the report, and the councilman offered to step down from his chairmanship of the Zoning Committee. He relieved Tam of all committee assignments “;until we are able to get through this process,”; Apo said.

Tam, who represents the Downtown-Kalihi Council district, did not return telephone messages left at his office and on his cell phone yesterday. His office said he plans to issue a written statement today.

;[Preview]  Rod Tam under ethics investigation
 

The city councilman, planning to run for Honolulu mayor, has settled an ethics investigation that found he misspent thousands of taxpayer dollars.

 

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“;I think he understands the gravity of the situation,”; Apo said.

The complaint stemmed from Tam receiving reimbursement from his contingency fund “;for hundreds of meals for himself with other individuals or groups totaling over $22,000”; over the past three years. The Ethics Commission report detailed a pattern of misuse by Tam of his contingency fund.

In one case Tam claimed a March 12, 2009, meal of $88.18 at Kabuki Japanese restaurant was for dinner with two state employees to discuss “;how economy affects HI's public education,”; according to the report. But the commission found that the restaurant copy of the matching credit card receipt showed dinner actually on Valentine's Day 2009 and paid by his wife, Lynette, for a dinner party of four. Tam later admitted the dinner had nothing to do with city business and offered to repay the city, the report said.

 The commission detailed other instances where Tam paid less than the amount he charged the city, his justification for the meal was false, the meal was not directly related to his Council duties or the meal was for personal matters with business associates or family members.

Council members are given wide discretion on their individual contingency fund accounts, which have ranged from $12,000 in 2006 to $18,011 last year. The funds can be used for virtually anything that can be justified as an expense to help conduct city business, from charges and business travel fares to leis and postage.

Tam is well known for treating his constituents to meals at his favorite spot, Zippy's. His recent expenses include typical office supplies such as postage, memo pads and bottled water but also various meals, with notations describing the meetings.

Since 2009 some of those meals included a $7.44 breakfast for “;Chinatown's historic culture”;; a $22.53 breakfast meeting for “;Story of Tam's trip to Qian Jiang City”; and $214.50 for “;Dinner meeting w/delegates from Zhao Jianxin Yangzhou Polytechnic University.”; Tam is active in the Chinatown community and has traveled to China to discuss sister-city relationships with various locations.

The complaint only focused on Tam's buying of meals, not travel or other expenses, but the commission said Tam also failed to disclose significant financial information regarding businesses and nonprofit organizations in which he serves and also failed to disclose conflicts of interest arising from these relationships.

In recent years, Council members have been required to post their expense reports online, a change from past years when they had to first receive approval from the Council chairman for reimbursements from the fund.

Apo said Tam will have to receive prior approval before using his fund, adding that he wants to have full Council discussion as to whether the policy should be expanded to all members.

While the Council does not have the power to remove a member from office, the members could vote to publicly censure Tam, who is in the final year of his second four-year term on the Council and is barred by term limits from seeking re-election. He has announced plans to run for mayor if the office is vacated this year.

Tam, a former state lawmaker, is perhaps best known for a proposal he introduced in the Legislature to provide mandatory naps and snack breaks for public workers. More recently he was criticized for a City Council proposal to ban smelly riders from public buses.