Big Isle election official
asked to step aside

Jay Mende is accused of making
illegal campaign donations

The head of the state Campaign Spending Commission is calling on a Big Island election official to step aside from his duties in the wake of his indictment on charges of making illegal political contributions.

Bob Watada, executive director of the commission, said Hawaii County Deputy Clerk Jay Mende should be reassigned from duties involving elections until his criminal case is resolved.

Watada also said the commission is investigating Mende for alleged illegal political contributions to the campaign of Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris.

Mende, who was appointed last year to the $66,000-a-year post, oversees the county's elections division and works with the Campaign Spending Commission to provide election guidelines and reports for candidates and political committees.

He is the third local government official to face criminal charges stemming from the city prosecutor's investigation into the Harris campaign. Earlier this year, Honolulu Police Commissioner Leonard Leong and city Community Services Department Director Mike Amii pleaded no contest to similar charges.

"This is a public trust issue," Watada said. "(Mende's) duty is to run the elections, and given that he's under indictment for violating the election laws, he should step aside from those duties."

Mende had no comment yesterday as he appeared in Circuit Court for an initial appearance on misdemeanor charges he made political donations under a false name and gave excessive contributions to the Harris campaign.

Mende, who faces up to a year in prison if he is convicted, is one of nine donors linked to city contractor R.M. Towill Corp. who were indicted last month for making illegal political donations.

Big Island Clerk Al Konishi said he has had some preliminary discussions with Mende about a reassignment within the County Clerk's Office while his case is being decided.

But Konishi said he has not made a decision on his deputy's status and stressed that his duty is to balance Mendes' due-process rights with the public image of his office.

Konishi also noted that the allegations involve political contributions Mende made prior to his appointment as deputy clerk.

According to state Campaign Spending Commission records, Mende gave $800 to Harris in 1997, $1,500 in 1998 and $2,000 in 1999.

At the time of the contributions, Mende worked as an accountant for Hilo Engineering Inc.

Curtis Tyler, vice chairman of the Hawaii County Council, said Mende should be presumed innocent until proved otherwise. But if Mende is convicted or pleads no contest to the charges, his status as deputy county clerk would merit "serious consideration," Tyler said.

"He's done some good work," said Tyler, a Republican. "He seems to be attentive to details, and that's important for elections."

Mende is the brother of Big Island painting contractor Donn Mende and son of Hilo resident Masae Mende, who also were indicted by an Oahu grand jury for allegedly making illegal political donations to the Harris campaign.

The Mendes -- along with architect John Adversalo, building materials supplier Daniel Rosario, former Towill comptroller Robert Ko and Towill executives Roy Tsutsui, Nancy Matsuno and Kenneth Sakai -- appeared before Circuit Judge Dan Kochi for arraignment yesterday.

Kochi postponed the defendants' pleas until Monday and rejected a defense motion to remand the cases to state District Court.


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