Previous problems demand
ethics rules for City Council


Members are considering a measure to eliminate bans on nepotism.

TAXPAYERS might think that the City Council has enough on its cluttered plate without having to fiddle with rules, especially ones designed to head off unethical practices. The body whose past members were befouled by a reputation for lacking scruples ought not to eliminate such edicts, lest there be stirs of suspicion that current office-holders might be up to no good.

The Council is entertaining an absurd idea to slacken taboos that stop members and other officials in the legislative branch from hiring their relatives, their domestic partners, relatives of domestic partners or relatives of other public officials.

The rules were put in place almost a decade ago after Councilman Andy Mirikitani hired the son of a girlfriend for his staff. Mirikitani, convicted in 2001 of theft, bribery, extortion, wire fraud and witness tampering, is now serving time in a federal prison. The following year, another Council member, Rene Mansho, pleaded guilty to state theft charges, tainting the Council with notoriety for corruption.

Council chairman Donovan Dela Cruz drafted the measure seemingly without ulterior motives, saying the prohibition could deprive the city of a qualified public servant simply because of family ties. However, it is difficult to believe there is a shortage of qualified applicants for Council staff openings and if a relative holds good skills, she or he should be able to find employment elsewhere.

Councilwoman Barbara Marshall, in describing the rules as "overkill," points out that similar regulations do not exist at other levels of government. Be that as it may, the "public perception that City Hall is dishonest" -- as Councilman Charles Djou observed -- is reason enough to maintain the rules. And just because no rules bind state or federal officials doesn't mean there is no need.

Removing the edicts leaves the Council vulnerable to criticism that they were established solely for Mirikitani and that now that he's long gone, the rule has become inconvenient.

The Council's attempts last year to seek exemption from the state's "Sunshine Law" and Councilman Rod Tam's recent brush with conflict of interest violations doesn't exactly paint a squeaky-clean ethical picture of current members.

The Council should focus its energies on the problems that peeve the public, not on internal squabbles.


Hawaii takes the lead
in flame-retardant ban


Governor Lingle has signed into law a prohibition against products containing harmful flame-retardant chemicals.

WHAT began as a legislative intention to keep up with other states in banning flame retardants that carry health risks has put Hawaii in the vanguard of such efforts. Governor Lingle has signed into law a prohibition of not only the two retardants identified in other state laws but a third retardant that is just as toxic but had slipped through past efforts to deal with the hazard. Legislators and the governor are to be commended for this bold and progressive action.

The bill originally introduced in the Legislature would have declared a ban on products coated with two forms of polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, known as Penta and Octa. Those retardants have been applied to plastics and foams used in furniture and electronics equipment since their development in the 1960s. The chemicals have found their way into the environment, creating risks such as thyroid hormone imbalance, brain damage and hearing loss among people who are exposed by consuming food with traces of the chemicals.

The European Union banned production and distribution of the two retardants last year. Indiana-based Great Lakes Chemical Corp., the only U.S. manufacturers of the two retardants, agreed with the Environmental Protection Agency last November to stop making Penta and Octa PBDEs. However, as pointed out in this space two months ago, Great Lakes and other companies plan to continue producing a third type of retardant -- Deca PBDEs -- that has been shown to take on the properties of the other two retardants when it breaks down in the environment.

In the joint House-Senate conference, legislators included Deca to the prohibition of products containing more than one-tenth of 1 percent of the PBDEs by adding to Penta and Octa "any other chemical formulation that is part of these classifications." Bill Walker, Oakland, Calif.-based West Coast vice president of the Environmental Working Group, says the Hawaii regulation, to take effect Jan. 1, 2006, is a tougher restriction than laws in any other states.

"A lot of times when they present us with scientific names of chemicals, we ban that," explained Rep. Barbara Marumoto. "Then they change one molecule and say it's not banned." Not this time, thanks to attentive legislators.



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