Accusations fly at Hilo ethics board meeting - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Accusations fly at Hilo ethics board meeting

Dominic Yagong & Jamae Kawauchi (in foreground) in an ethics board meeting Dominic Yagong & Jamae Kawauchi (in foreground) in an ethics board meeting
Dominic Yagong Dominic Yagong
Jamae Kawauchi (foreground) Jamae Kawauchi (foreground)

HILO, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) – Embattled Hawaii County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi and her boss, Hawaii County Council Chairman Dominic Yagong, went on the offensive Wednesday, accusing the head of their county's ethics board of conflicts of interest.

The accusations came during a testy meeting of Hawaii County's Board of Ethics in Hilo Wednesday morning, during which the board began considering an ethics complaint against Yagong.  The state Office of Elections sent a complaint filed by an anonymous person to the ethics board, after someone claimed Yagong was in a secured area of the elections section of the Hawaii County clerk's office Aug. 30. Yagong denied he was near any voting equipment or ballots and said he was helping to take inventory of basic election supplies, like masking tape, cell phones and signs.  

Yagong's daughter Chelsea is running to replace him on the council, since he is stepping down because of term limits.   

"There's a potential for a conflict of interest," John Dill, chairman of the Board of Ethics, told Yagong, who appeared before the board Wednesday morning. 

"And that's what we're trying to get to the bottom of.  And I'm sorry that you feel and have stated publicly this is a silly distraction, but really all we're trying to do is to preserve the integrity of the democratic process for the County of Hawaii voters.  So that they have some shred of faith that their vote does count," Dill said. 

Yagong then claimed Dill had a conflict of interest in Yagong's ethics case, because when Yagong's council office had a job opening, Yagong said Dill called him to ask him to hire his brother. 

"Mr. Dill called my office, called me up personally to ask me to hire his brother," Yagong told the ethics board. 

"This is an event that I cannot even recall," Dill said in response.  

Yagong then said, "If you cannot recall this, Mr. Dill, then you should not be sitting as chairman of the ethics commission." 

Later in the meeting, both men raised their voices as Dill banged on his gavel, trying to get Yagong to stop talking. 

Yagong: Are you denying this? [The charge Dill asked Yagong to hire his brother]

Dill: Look, I'm going to cut you off right now.

Yagong: Are you denying this, Mr. Dill?

Dill: Yes, I am denying this.

Yagong: Oh, then you're going to be in more ethical trouble than anyone else that ever came before this ethics commission. 

Earlier in the meeting, ethics board member Arne Henricks told Yagong why the ethics panel was concerned about his activities. 

"You're not the average father.  You happen to be the chairman of the county council," Henricks said. 

"What is your role in the elections process?  Is it operational," asked Henricks.   

Then Kawauchi accused Dill of meddling in her office, which has been plagued by staffing, management and operational problems.  During the Aug. 11 primary, 13 of 40 Big Island polling places opened up to an hour and a half late, prompting Gov. Neil Abercrombie to issue an emergency proclamation to keep all Hawaii county voting sites open an hour and a half late, delaying statewide results. 

Kawauchi said in July, Dill wrote a letter on county letter head asking that she be removed as clerk and that the elections office be placed under the control of the state Attorney General's office.  

"If you're going to ask Mr. Yagong about his operational relationship to the elections office, then we have to ask what your operational relationship that was brought before this commission," Kawauchi told Dill. "It was done personally by you, on county letter head ... Based upon communications that you had with persons that you did not identify." 

"You have an ethics problem is what I think you've got, because you're trying to get into the operations of our office," Kawauchi said to Dill. 

Dill responded, saying, "I wrote a letter requesting that others look into the operations of the office of elections as a private citizen, because of the concerns that were surfacing by the public at large in the elections." 

"I'm a registered voter ... and that has nothing to do with you, Mr. Yagong," Dill added.

Then, another heated exchange erupted, with Dill banging his gavel once again: 

Dill: Mr. Yagong, I said I'm limiting the discussion between the board. OK?  Please do not speak unless spoken to.

Yagong: He looked at me. [Referring to ethics board member Henricks]

Dill: Oh, he looked at you, did he speak to you? OK?  Stop already. Stop! 

Ethics board members told Yagong and Kawauchi they can file affidavits with the board, asking for a member of the ethics board to be removed from a case for a conflict. The board will then decide whether that member must recuse him or herself from the case.   

The board postponed consideration of Yagong's ethics case until its next meeting on Oct. 10.

Kawauchi was targeted in a defamation lawsuit last week filed by clerk's office employees. 

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