Monday, January 28, 2002

Taxpayers deserve review
of Felix charges

The issue: A judge wants a review of
allegations stemming from a probe
of special ed spending.

U.S. District Judge David Ezra's call for a prosecutorial review may be the best way to sort out allegations involving spending for special education in Hawaii. Because of the multiple roles the state Attorney General's Office has played and legislators' charges of conflict of interest against Ezra himself, an independent assessment could quell further dispute and reassure taxpayers.

The situation arises from a legislative committee's inquiry into possible criminal conduct or wrongdoing in the state's compliance with the Felix consent decree, which the federal court issued to require improvements in special education. After its investigation, the committee recommended that the attorney general examine contracts, billing and fees in the state's effort to meet the mandate.

Ezra's request for the involvement of the U.S. Justice Department or the city prosecutor's office carries merit because the Attorney General's Office has represented the governor and the state health and education departments in Felix-related matters. It also represented the legislative committee when it attempted to subpoena court-appointed officials to testify.

Ezra contends that the committee's allegations are so "sensational" that an independent body should inspect them. This also would remove the matter from the political arena during an election year, the judge argues.

The state may be reluctant to allow an outside agency to intrude into Felix matters. Attorney General Earl Anzai argues the multiple roles will not hamper his office's ability to move forward. However, because of the highly charged atmosphere that has surrounded the decree and the millions of dollars being spent to meet the court's requirements, separating all the parties involved -- including Ezra -- from the resolution may be warranted.

There has been no love lost between Ezra and the committee's leaders, Sen. Colleen Hanabusa and Rep. Scott Saiki. When the judge quashed its subpoenas, the panel questioned whether Ezra could rule fairly in the case and sought unsuccessfully to have him disqualified. Because both sides have exchanged harsh words and questioned each other's motives, all the more reason to extract them from the process.

Saiki and Hanabusa say they welcome an independent review and Ezra apparently wants no clouds to cover his oversight of the decree. Above all, however, the state's taxpayers deserve a thorough accounting of whether their money was used appropriately.

Effort to impeach could
be useful test

The issue: A lawyer is asking the state
Supreme Court to impeach Rene Mansho.

HAVING failed to remove City Councilwoman Rene Mansho from office by petition, her opponents are bringing impeachment proceedings before the state Supreme Court. They had better hurry: Her term expires in less than a year and term limits prevent her from seeking re-election.

For that reason, this impeachment attempt is peculiar. Its result may be little more than academic, while setting a precedent for future impeachment efforts. No city official has undergone the process in the 28-year history of the City Charter, so the attempt to spank Mansho could be useful on that narrow basis.

Mansho, who has sat on the Council since 1989, has admitted violating state campaign spending rules and city ethics. She used aides for campaign fund-raising during city work hours and spent campaign funds for personal use. She paid fines and reimbursement totaling $80,000.

A state elected official can be impeached by the Legislature for anything the Ethics Commission decides is "sufficient cause." In contrast, the City Charter specifies causes for impeachment as malfeasance (illegal conduct), misfeasance (impropriety) or nonfeasance (willful failure to perform duties, with damaging consequences).

Attorney William Saunders Jr., clearly alleging malfeasance, says he filed the action because of community outrage that went unvented when a recall petition last June fell short of enough signatures to put the issue on the ballot. An impeachment petition needs fewer signatures, and proponents have reached that threshold.

"We need justice and closure on this issue," Saunders says. "Impeachment will help vindicate the public interest and restore integrity to county government."

According to Saunders' reasoning, any City Council member caught breaking the law -- or, at least, laws regulating politics -- should resign or be forced out. Mansho's refusal to walk away from Honolulu Hale "defies common sense and shows arrogant disdain and disrespect for her constituents and all of Honolulu's other residents and taxpayers."

The Supreme Court's reaction will determine how the impeachment law may be used in the future. The high court could decide it has discretion on whether to consider the impeachment attempt, regardless of how many signatures the petition may bear. If it wants to dodge the issue, it could appoint someone to investigate the charges and return to court after they became moot.

If the court takes it seriously, the impeachment attempt against Mansho might be instrumental in future cases, with nobody getting hurt this time around. Call it a test run.

Published by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press.

Don Kendall, Publisher

Frank Bridgewater, managing editor 529-4791;
Michael Rovner,
assistant managing editor 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, assistant managing editor 529-4762;

Richard Halloran, editorial page director, 529-4790;
John Flanagan, contributing editor 294-3533;

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