Planning Department Ethics

SOURCE: Kenneth Taylor (
SUBHEAD: Testimony to County Board of Ethics on Planning Department employees acting as consultants.

By Horace Stoessel on 14 June 2010 in Island Breath -

Image above: Mashup illustration by Juan Wilson of draftsman with money in pocket and "Approval" guaranteed.  

[IB Editor's note: Having planning department employees submit drawings for clients to their own department for review is like having students grade their own tests. A clear conflict of interest. As an architect licensed in Hawaii I ask if hiring a planning department employee as a architectural consultant could seem to be a bribe to get projects through our planning department more easily? I suspect Ian Costa doesn't worry too much about such matters.]

  The following comments grew out of my examination of the materials provided to the Board of Ethics by Planning Director Ian Costa at the Board’s May 14, 2010 meeting. I assume that the relevance of the materials will not be substantially altered by the deferral of requests for advisory opinions until July.

My remarks are directed toward ethics-related issues, processes and principles, not persons. The four requests for advisory opinions presented to the Board of Ethics in May and to be re-submitted in July revive issues from 2002 and allow the current Board to look at the issues with fresh eyes. I submit this testimony now in order to provide Board members ample time to analyze and evaluate it before deliberations and decision-making occur in July.

The materials provided by the Planning Department depict a scene in which all the energy is invested in preventing the horses from escaping through the open barn doors, with no attention to the question of whether the barn doors should be open in the first place. I’m sure the Planning Department employees are just looking for a way to supplement their income and for the most convenient way to achieve that purpose.

Few, if any, ethics issues would arise if their outside employment had no connection with their county position/work.

 However, these RAO’s involve activities in which fulltime employees are competing with fellow professionals in the private sector for work in the private sector that will come before the Planning Department and doing so with inherent advantages associated with their position in the department.

I believe that permitting the employees to engage in these activities would be to legitimize unfair competition in the marketplace and would run counter to the theme of “fair treatment” that occupies a prominent place in both state and county law.

 I did not find in the materials provided by the Planning Department any acknowledgment by the administration, department, or Board of Ethics that fair treatment of persons in the private sector is an issue connected with outside work by employees. I did find Rick Tsuchiya’s excellent July 5, 2002 “Request for Ethics Review” as pertinent today as it was in 2002. His memorandum prompts several ethics-related questions. He wrote in part: “It is our desire to revisit the issue of staff drafting plans and our related policies to address this practice to insure that we are in compliance with all ethical requirements.

Other reasons contributing to this reassessment include occasional direct or indirect inquiries from private individuals or other government agency employees relating to private drafting work performed by our employees and administering ethics policies relating to outside employment is often times a management challenge.”

Has the Planning Department received informal queries and complaints about unfair competition and, if so, is there a record of those complaints? Has the department or Board received formal complaints?
What prompted the administration’s directive and the department’s reassessment in 2002?

What prompted the administration’s directive in August, 2009 followed by the department’s requests for advisory opinions in 2010? What specific “management challenges” has the department encountered in administering ethics policies relating to outside employment?

Is it possible to effectively monitor and enforce the numerous ethics provisions relevant to this kind of outside work? (The system in place appears to me to depend fundamentally on self-policing.)

 Has anyone in the Planning Department ever been disciplined with “fine, suspension or removal from office or employment” for ethics violations?—a constant theme and warning in the ethics-related materials.

In my opinion, the ruling by the Board of Ethics on October 25, 2002 that the Planning Department’s “policy of 2-1-2001 regarding ethics, employee side business and plan review issues adequately covers the ethical issues” did not respond satisfactorily to the Planning Department’s request for guidance, nor can it serve as a guide for decision-making regarding the current RAO’s.

Its lack of attention to “unfair practice” as a central ethical issue in the matter of outside employment is reason enough to disregard the ruling in current deliberations. Since the ruling was adopted by a 3-2 vote, the two dissenters may have had other reasons for not supporting the ruling that would be of interest to the Board today.


No comments :

Post a Comment