City & County of Honolulu

Mayor’s Palau trip
not reported

A spokeswoman says city attorneys
ruled the air fare and hotel stay
did not constitute a gift

By Rick Daysog

Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris did not disclose that the Republic of Palau paid for his travel to an environmental conference earlier this summer, in what one city councilwoman said is symptomatic of the Harris administration's lack of openness.

But a city spokeswoman said that the mayor did not list the trip in his annual disclosure report with the Office of the City Clerk after city attorneys determined that it was not a gift.

Harris was in Palau in late June at the invitation of its president Tommy Remengesau Jr. to deliver the keynote speech for the 21st annual Pacific Islands Environment Conference at the Palasia Hotel in the city of Koror.

The Palau government agreed to pay for Harris's air fare and hotel costs for the June 24-28 conference, which attracted more than 200 environmental experts and government officials from about a dozen countries, said Tom Yocum, one of the event's organizers and an official with the Environmental Protection Agency.

Yocum, an EPA wetlands expert, said he could not recall the total costs, but said that the Palau government received a discounted, $824 air fare with Continental Airlines for the mayor. Typically, two-way fares for Honolulu to Palau flights range between $1,600 and $2,000, he said.

Under city ethics laws in effect at the time, elected officials are required to list all gifts that they receive from outside sources. Such gifts include any form of money, goods, services, loans, entertainment, lodging and travel that comes from a donor that has an interest before the city official.

(The city's ethics law was amended earlier this year to ban all gifts above $200. But the amended law, which took effect July 1, eliminated the reporting requirements for gifts.)

The Palau trip came less than a month after Harris dropped out of this year's governor's race. At the time, Harris was considered the Democratic front-runner.

City spokeswoman Carol Costa said city attorneys advised the mayor's staff in July that the Palau trip is not a gift and should not be included in Harris' gift disclosure form.

She said that Palau government invited him in his official capacity as mayor and that Harris accepted so that local taxpayers wouldn't end up footing the bill.

Although Harris' past reports listed several trips paid for by foreign governments, Costa said the corporation counsel determined that the trips to Palau and other overseas countries were official city business that the mayor did not need to disclose.

City Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi said the omission of Harris' Palau trip illustrates his administration's lack of candor.

Kobayashi, a frequent critic of the Harris' fiscal policies, said the administration has been reluctant to disclose information that should be public. She said some city officials have been unresponsive to her committee's requests for documentation on city projects.

"It's a question of accountability," Kobayashi said. "Why don't they just disclose these things? What is there to hide?"

Under city law, failure to disclose a gift could result in penalties as severe as impeachment of an elected official. The corporation counsel also could sue a donor or a recipient if a gift is not disclosed.

In his July 31, 2002, gift-disclosure form, Harris revealed that he received more than $21,000 in gifts during the past year, including several honorary memberships to exclusive clubs such as the Waialae Country Club, the Pacific Club and the Mid-Pacific Country Club.

The report, which covered July 1, 2001, through June 30, 2002, also said that Harris and his wife, Ramona, each received annual parking passes worth $100 from Apcoa Inc. The couple also received movie passes valued at $175 each from Consolidated Theatres, Wallace Theatre and Signature Theatres.

Chuck Totto, executive director of the City Ethics Commission, declined to comment on Harris' gift report.

Harris' previous gift disclosure forms listed trips paid for by the Palau government and other out-of-state hosts.

In June 2001, Governing Magazine paid $1,546 for Harris' air fare and lodging when he attended an e-government conference on the mainland.

The mayor's 1998 report noted that the speaker of Palau's House of Delegates, Ignascio Anastacio, paid $4,354.50 for Harris' air fare and hotel expenses when he went to Palau in July 1997. That same report noted that Anastacio paid $1,200 for Harris' lodging expenses in Palau in March 1998.

The Harris administration, meanwhile, has paid for travel to Honolulu for several Palau officials. In May 2000, the City and County of Honolulu paid $5,717 for the air fares of Palau Gov. Duane Hideo, environmentalist Noah Idechong and the former general counsel to Palau's Legislature Drew Bohan, records provided by the nonprofit Environmental Foundation show.

The trio were in Honolulu to take part in the Mayor's Pacific Islands Environmental Symposium at the Sheraton-Waikiki Hotel, according to the foundation, which helped organize the event.

City & County of Honolulu

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