Advisory Opinion No. 2004-5*
Prior to voting on a city budget, a councilmember must fully disclose in writing all interests she has in private organizations receiving funds under the budget.
In 2003, Councilmember Ann Kobayashi voted on the city's fiscal year 2004 budget, which appropriated funds to three non-profit organizations of which she was an unpaid board member. The funds were made available to the city as United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Community Block Grants (CDBG). The budget was passed in June 2003.
On December 10, 2003, the Honolulu Ethics Commission (the Commission) received a written request asking whether Councilmember Kobayashi's vote on the city's budget violated the city's standards of ethical conduct. Councilmember Kobayashi was subsequently given a copy of the request in compliance with Revised Ordinances of Honolulu (ROH) § 3-6.7(b). Ms. Kobayashi responded in writing to the request, but did not seek a hearing before the Commission. Pursuant to ROH § 3-6.7(c), the Commission renders this opinion based on the information available to it.
The issue presented is whether Councilmember Kobayashi violated the city's disclosure of interests requirements when she voted on the city's fiscal year 2004 budget, which earmarked funds for non-profit organizations with which she was affiliated.
Section 11-103 of the Revised Charter of Honolulu (RCH) requires a councilmember to fully disclose in writing all interests he or she may have in proposals before the council prior to voting on the proposal. Specifically, RCH § 11-103 provides:
Any elected or appointed officer or employee who possesses or who acquires such interests as might reasonably tend to create a conflict with the public interest shall make full disclosure in writing to such person's appointing authority or to the council, in the case of a member of the council, and to the ethics commission, at any time such conflict becomes apparent. Such disclosure statements shall be made a matter of public record and be filed with the city clerk. Any member of the council who knows he or she has a personal or private interest, direct or indirect, in any proposal before the council, shall disclose such interest in writing to the council. Such disclosure shall be made a matter of public record prior to the taking of any vote on such proposal.
Under the circumstances presented, Councilmember Kobayashi did not comply with the disclosure requirements of RCH § 11-103.
Although Councilmember Kobayashi's failure to file the required written disclosure constitutes a violation of RCH § 11-103, the Commission does not recommend any disciplinary action be taken in this matter. We have no evidence that the non-disclosure was anything more than a mere oversight. Councilmember Kobayashi had listed her board positions in her financial disclosure statement for 2002. She was therefore clearly not trying to conceal her affiliations. Moreover, Councilmember Kobayashi immediately removed herself from the boards of the non-profit organizations once the non-disclosure issue was raised last year. The Commission believes that it is sufficient that Councilmember Kobayashi be reminded of the conflicts of interest disclosure requirements, which are clearly set forth in the Commission's Guidelines on Abstention from Voting (July 13, 1995).
ROBIN DAVID LIU, Chairperson
* Editor's note: Because the issues and facts described herein were discussed in various media reports, this opinion is not being maintained as confidential.