City official learns to
politick after work hours


A top city official has pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor for ordering a staff member to work on the campaign of Mayor Harris.

PUBLIC officials are slowly but surely learning that working on political campaigns on public time is not only out of line but criminal, regardless of its magnitude. Mike Amii, director of the city Department of Community Services, learned that lesson in pleading no contest to a misdemeanor theft charge stemming from an investigation of Mayor Harris's political campaign. Amii's future politicking should come on his own time.

The plea does not fully reflect Amii's wrongdoing alleged by the state Campaign Spending Commission. Amii was arrested on suspicion of second-degree theft and racketeering following an investigation by the commission last year. The commission cited $280 in parking tickets that Amii charged to the Harris campaign in 1996, plus thousands of dollars in payments for mainland trips with national Democratic officials.

Amii acknowledged only that he ordered his secretary to work on the Harris campaign. "I have learned a great deal about the fine line that public employees must straddle and the amount of scrutiny we are under," Amii said in a statement to the Star- Bulletin. "While the amount of time I requested from my staff was not significant, I now realize the consequences of my actions."

"For him to be accused of misappropriating city resources is not putting Mike in the proper light," said Miles Furutami, Amii's lawyer. However, the misdemeanor charge that Amii chose not to contest is precisely that -- assigning a city employee to work on a political campaign while being paid from city funds.

Furutami also questioned whether an administrative hearing would have been more appropriate than a criminal case, considering that staffers spent only about 10 hours working on the Harris campaign over a four-year period. Crimes involving relatively small sums are prosecuted as misdemeanors, not handled administratively.

Amii is no political novice and should have known that politicking on public time amounts to stealing from taxpayers, regardless of the amount involved. Longtime Democrats remember Amii as a key campaign coordinator for former Gov. John Waihee and an organizer of political rallies for former Gov. George Ariyoshi. He joined the city in 1995 and will continue to work for the city, presumably full-time.


UH regent acted
properly by resigning
to salvage land deal


University of Hawaii regent Everett Dowling has resigned to end any conflicts of interest standing in the way of a UH construction project on Maui.

CIRCUMSTANCES slid out of control for Everett Dowling, who finally resigned from the University of Hawaii Board of Regents because of a conflict that was difficult to justify. Dowling may have acted in the best interest of the university in entering into a financial arrangement with the institution. Doing so while remaining on the board would have required extraordinary if not impossible aloofness.

For several years, the regents had run into problems finding land with suitable water, electricity and infrastructure to build a multimillion-dollar Institute for Astronomy until Dowling mentioned to the board that he owned available commercial property on Maui. The board was interested, and Dowling properly sought the opinion of the Hawaii State Ethics Commission about the conflict of interest resulting from a regent receiving from the university 4.5 percent below the $1.8 million for the three acres, and also overseeing the institute's design and construction, estimated to cost $8.6 million.

Daniel J. Mollway, the commission's director, advised Dowling in a letter that ethical guidelines would be followed if Dowling, in the role of either developer or regent, were to withdraw from discussions or decisions involving the project. Still, according to regent Kitty Lagareta, an appointee of Governor Lingle, most board members "felt it was uncomfortable to have a regent developing a multimillion-dollar project for the university." Dowling's proposed oversight of the design and construction was withdrawn, but the discomfort apparently remained.

In his resignation letter to Lingle, Dowling said, "The importance of this project and the prestige and potential economic development implications it brings to the university and to the County of Maui far outweigh my holding a seat on the Board of Regents."

The institute is said to have outgrown the 80-year-old farmhouse it now occupies and could qualify for a $100 million grant from the National Science Foundation if the state meets certain deadlines to build a new structure. The building will support research and development of solar telescopes costing as much as $100 million. Dowling's honorable resignation should allow the project to go forward without questions about a regent benefitting from it.



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