POSTED: Thursday, March 18, 2010

Facing his second censure by colleagues in three years, City Councilman Rod Tam apologized for the public distraction caused by his actions and remained steadfast in his denial that he misused his expense account.

Still, the City Council voted unanimously to censure Tam for his “;unethical course of conduct”; detailed in a report by the city Ethics Commission earlier this month. All nine members, Tam included, voted in favor of the censure resolution.

“;Basically, the Council wants to move on with business,”; Tam said after yesterday's vote. “;Sensitivity, emotionalism, is what they tried to address.”;

The censure comes after Tam agreed to pay $11,700 in restitution and a $2,000 civil fine over allegations that he improperly used his Council contingency fund for “;hundreds”; of meals totaling more than $22,000 unrelated to his city work.

Under terms of the agreement, Tam admitted no wrongdoing. He has admitted only to sloppy record-keeping and faulty math, while arguing that the rules covering discretionary expenses need to be clarified.

;[Preview]  Council votes to censure Tam

The Honolulu City Council voted unanimously to censure Councilman Rod Tam for misuse of council contingency funds.


Watch ]





The censure resolution was introduced by Councilman Charles Djou and originally called for Tam's resignation while urging the Attorney General's Office to fully investigate. The Council adopted an amended version that stripped that language from the bill.

Djou was disappointed but said a “;watered-down”; version of the censure was better than nothing.

“;Rod Tam's behavior is wrong. There's no two ways about it,”; Djou said. “;I would have preferred the Honolulu City Council make the clear statement that the public's trust is of paramount importance and encouraged Rod Tam to leave the City Council position.”;

Council Chairman Todd Apo, who has relieved Tam of all committee assignments, said the resolution strongly rebukes Tam and notes the Council does not consider the matter over.

“;My understanding is that there is a criminal investigation going on and, as it says in the resolution, we're going to let that proceed and based on the finding of that, we may take further action,”; Apo said.

Attorney General Mark Bennett has declined comment, saying only that the case is being treated like any other referred to his office.

Deliberation over the censure resolution lasted about 25 minutes, with testimony from only five people, four of whom supported Tam. Papakolea resident Lionel Wright presented a petition of support for Tam signed by 300 people.

Gerald Martens, the lone Tam critic, called Tam's actions “;reprehensible”; and argued that Tam's negotiated settlement with the Ethics Commission—giving him three years to pay the $13,700—amounts to an interest-free loan.

“;Mr. Tam should reimburse taxpayers immediately,”; Martens said.

Djou agreed. “;Most people don't get interest-free loans to pay back fines to the city,”; he said. “;He's lucky that because of his position he's able to do that.”;

According to the promissory note, Tam pays no interest unless he misses a monthly payment, in which case interest will be 12 percent for all future payments. City Ethics Commission Executive Director Chuck Totto noted that Tam's fine was the first assessed by his office since it was granted the authority in 2007. “;We haven't established a common practice for recouping fines or other significant dollar amounts,”; Totto said.

Tam is in the final year of his second four-year term representing the Downtown-Kalihi district and is barred by term limits from seeking re-election. He plans to run for mayor.

Tam was unanimously censured in June 2008 over his use of the ethnic slur “;wetbacks”; during a committee hearing to describe illegal immigrants from Mexico working in Hawaii. Tam apologized, but refused to step down from his Zoning Committee chairmanship at that time.