Frequently Asked Questions
What does the City Ethics Commission do?
The Commission exists to help city employees and officers understand and follow the standards of conduct set out in the city Charter (Article XI) and Ordinances (Chapter 3, Article 8). The Commission educates and advises the employees and officers to promote ethical conduct. To meet these goals, the Commission and its staff offer seminars on ethics topics, as well as providing guidelines on issues that frequently arise. We also give confidential advice to employees, officers and the public. Finally, the Commission is authorized to make recommendations to the employee or officer and their appointing authority concerning the conduct of the employee or officer. Most of the Commission's work is focused on helping city workers avoid violating the ethics laws.
What are the usual topics of requests or complaints?
Some of the common topics we receive inquiries about include the gifts to employees from private interests that apply for work or permits from the employee's department, potential conflicts between an employee's duties and an outside financial interest or business activity, restrictions on campaign activities, limitations on future employment and the improper use of a government position to create an advantage for a private interest.
Who can request advice from the Commission?
Anyone can. A member of the public or a city employee, officer or official with a question or complaint about the conduct of someone who works for the city can ask for advice.
How can I get information or advice from the Ethics Commission?
Just call 768-7786 or email the Commission at firstname.lastname@example.org with your question. The Commission staff can often answer your question at the time of the call. If the question is more complex or involves many facts, the staff may ask you to write a letter including all the pertinent information. If you would like a written opinion from the Commission itself, you may request one.
Besides contacting the staff, the Commission has available resources that allow you to examine topics of interest to you. The following are available on our website at http://www.honolulu.gov/ethics/ or from our offices: the relevant parts of the Charter and ordinances, guidelines on several topics, the Commission's rules and the published advisory opinions of the Commission, with subject matter indexes.
What information should I be ready to provide when I contact the Commission?
Giving good advice requires understanding the facts. This is especially true when the Commission or staff will have to apply the facts in the context of the ethics laws. The following information will be very helpful in rendering prompt, accurate advice:
1. In every case, be ready with the "who, what, when, where and how" that applies to your question. For example, if you are a city employee interested in working part-time for a private business, you should find out what your duties will be for the private business. Without this information, the Commission would not be able to determine if your outside employment could conflict with your city job.
2. If you are requesting advice about the questionable conduct of an employee or officer, have available the names of witnesses, documents or other evidence of what happened. This aides our office in establishing reliable facts.
3. If you are asking about the conduct of someone in your department or about yourself, review or have available the department's policy on the issue. Department policies may set a higher standard of conduct than the ethics laws.
May I submit an anonymous complaint?
You may, but it is unlikely to result in correcting a problem. As a practical matter, an anonymous inquiry is of little use to the Ethics Commission because there is no one with whom to discuss or develop the facts of the case. We rarely have the resources to investigate an ethics concern without the support of someone who has first-hand knowledge of the situation.
If I ask for advice or submit a complaint, will my identity be kept confidential?
Yes. The confidentiality of your identity is carefully safeguarded by law and Commission practice because it is crucial to fostering a free flow of information between the parties to an inquiry and the Commission. The Commission's published written advisory opinions are edited to protect the identity of the parties. Of course, if you wish, you may waive your right to confidentiality.
What rights do I have if I am the subject of an inquiry to the Ethics Commission?
The law requires fair play when an inquiry is made about the conduct of a city employee or officer. Before the Commission renders a written opinion, it is required to: (1) submit a copy of the inquiry (without the identity of the writer) to you for your response, and, (2) allow the parties to the matter a chance to request a hearing before the Commission where they may be represented by counsel and present witnesses and exhibits. The procedures are covered in more detail in the Commission's rules.
What can the Ethics Commission do if it finds a violation of the ethics laws?
The Commission may make recommendations to the appointing authority (or to the city Council in the case of councilmembers) to correct the violation and impose discipline. Recommendations include having the employee or officer counseled, reprimanded, disciplined or dismissed. However, the decision as to what corrective action or discipline to impose is up to the appointing authority. The appointing authority is then required to inform the Commission whether the recommendations were accepted and what corrective actions were taken. In the case of councilmembers, the Commission may impose a civil fine.
Telephone: (808) 768-7786