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Tuesday, March 21, 2000

City & County of Honolulu

Ethics Commission lapses
shock Council members

By Gordon Y.K. Pang


City Council members are scratching their heads about the performance of Carolyn Stapleton, longtime executive director of the city Ethics Commission.

Under questioning at a Budget Committee briefing yesterday, Stapleton said the last advisory opinions of the commission were published 10 years ago and only covered opinions given through 1983.

Stapleton also acknowledged that she once used the Ethics Commission photocopying machine, although not city-purchased paper, to make copies for her church-related activities.

"I'm flabbergasted," Councilwoman Donna Mercado Kim said after the meeting. Publishing opinions of the commission is "specifically a requirement of this office," she said.

Stapleton said there weren't enough opinions to make printing them cost-effective.

There are "probably less than 100" opinions that have been issued but not published since the 1980s, she said.

Taking a page from the state Ethics Commission, the city panel is now looking at putting its opinions online and is hoping to achieve that goal by June 30, Stapleton said.

Yesterday was not the first time Stapleton has been questioned about the lack of opinions published.

In 1996, Stapleton told the Council that roughly 100 opinions from 1984 to 1994 were sanitized, indexed and in the process of being printed.

Yesterday, Stapleton said: "I don't recall" making such a statement to the Council four years ago.

She did, however, say that "there've been a variety of technical difficulties" that have caused delays in publishing.

For instance, the revised City Charter and ordinances have changed the citations and designations of laws pertaining to the Ethics Commission, she said.

Kim questioned the propriety of only publishing opinions on the Internet without hard copies since not everyone has access.

Stapleton said access to the Internet today is readily accessible to everyone.

Councilman John Henry Felix said he's puzzled that only 100 opinions have been issued since 1989.

But Stapleton, who makes about $70,000 a year, said issuing formal opinions is not the only responsibility of her office.

"We don't write up when someone calls and asks for ethics advisories from me," she said, noting that informal advisories far outnumber formal requests for formal opinions.

Stapleton also said that during about three months out of the year, her main job is to distribute and review financial disclosure forms for city employees.

Councilman Duke Bainum noted that, in 1996, he led the charge to make Stapleton's position full-time because of complaints that she was difficult to contact.

After yesterday's meeting, Bainum said he is "struck by the paucity of cases."

Stapleton, under questioning, also said that she once, on her own time and using her own paper, made photocopies on the commission copier for personal use.

"I undoubtedly should have at least asked for permission," Stapleton said.

Felix described Stapleton's presentation to the Council yesterday as "very, very inadequate," noting that it even lacked even fundamental information such as the number of cases pending or issued but unpublished.

City & County of Honolulu

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