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Changing Hawaii

By Diane Yukihiro Chang

Friday, October 13, 2000

Rene Mansho needs
lesson on conflict
of interest

MAYBE I should ask Councilwoman Rene Mansho out to lunch. She needs a well-meaning person like me -- in a friendly, laid-back setting like a sushi bar or all-you-can-grind buffet -- to slowly and clearly explain the important concept of "conflict of interest."

Mansho doesn't seem to understand it's a no-no to use her position or influence as a city official to help friends and campaign contributors, or to personally benefit financially now or in the future.

Too bad. Mansho is the nicest, most vivacious and certainly most cheerful member of the Honolulu City Council.

But, lately, her penchant to appear clueless about the way she spends money, raises money or saves money for herself would be funny, except she's an elected official with a campaign war chest, who gets paid with taxpayer dollars.

In May, Mansho made headlines when the city Ethics Commission told her to terminate use of an electric car from GEM Hawaii, and to reimburse the company for fair rental value of the vehicle for the months she had used it.

It seems GEM had let Mansho drive the sporty number for a mere $150 a month (try getting that deal yourself), and then later for free, because she was hired to be a "company spokesperson."

Oh, Mansho was a good spokesperson, all right.

According to an Ethics Commission advisory opinion, she testified in favor of tax credits for electric cars before the Legislature, and approached city department heads about their advantages when she has "broad discretion to influence the policy and practices of the city with regard to purchasing vehicles powered by alternative fuels."

Ding, ding, ding! Hear that? It's the shrill ring of the conflict of interest bell!

But Mansho was deaf to it. In a May 6 View Point column, she defended her association with GEM and the unbelievably low rental price for her electric car by saying, heck, she was just trying to reduce taxpayer costs and help the environment.

She ended her remarks saying, "I will continue to find ways to support our local economy by promoting made-in-Hawaii companies and products."

Uh, oh. Mansho clearly didn't get it. She couldn't understand what was so bad about her great deal, because, to her, the end justified the means. It was good for the environment, wasn't it?

WHICH is why, not surprisingly, Mansho is once again being investigated by government watchdogs. On Wednesday, the state Campaign Spending Commission gave her 30 days to prove that up to $32,000 in her campaign fund had not been misused.

The order came after hearing from a complainant, lei vendor Haunani Acohido, who said that Mansho had improperly used her election funds for personal reasons, among them to support the Aloha Boat Days program.

Acohido also alleged that Mansho had persuaded a cruise ship operator to stop buying leis from Acohido's company and, instead, to give the business to a campaign contributor.

It's a very messy situation and, in all fairness to Rene, she denies the charges and has a month to prove her innocence.

But her attorney, Neal Aoki, said something very telling in her defense: "If it is ultimately determined that any expenditures were not allowed, certainly it was done unknowingly and unintentionally. Ms. Mansho's heart is in the right place."

Her heart may be in the right place. But where are her ethics?

Diane Yukihiro Chang's column runs Monday and Friday.
She can be reached by phone at 525-8607, via e-mail at, or by fax at 523-7863.

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