City ethics investigation targets free golf

City ethics investigation targets free golf

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Golf is a game of etiquette and honor, but the Ethics Commission Director says some City employees have been shamed in an investigation involving free golf.

There's nothing wrong with playing golf, but when government employees get free or subsidized entry into golf tournaments and then win prizes in addition to free food and booze, then there's a problem.

"City employees have to be very careful about who their friends are. If your friend invites you to something like this are they actually setting you up?" said Chuck Totto, Ethics Commission Executive Director. "Why are they inviting a bunch of city permiters to a golf tournament and paying their way, giving them prizes, paying for food, besides the golf, booze perhaps and at least refreshments?"

Forty city employees were investigated.  Fewer than 10 had to reimburse the full $109 entry fees and give back prizes.  One employee admitted to using sick time in order to play in the tournament. That person also reviewed and "approved at least 100 building permit applications" from the business that paid for the golf.

"If you are an employee who receives gifts it is human nature to think of them in favored way and that's what the public can't trust," said Totto. "If you were to ask somebody and they said 'oh I wouldn't change how I do things because of that gift.' How do I know that? How does a reasonable taxpayer know that? The way they know it is if you don't take the gift."

The individual departments will decide if additional punishment is needed.

"If I were a contactor I'd wonder, 'gee I didn't take those guys golfing, am I not going to get favored treatment?" said Totto.

Perception counts.  People have complained city business takes too long and if 40 employees are taking off the same work day to play golf with a company that needs permits some say it just doesn't look good.

"I would hope that the city didn't slow down because of it," said Totto.

We have also learned the State Ethics Commission is also investigating State employees about free golf.  Investigators have been interviewing employees.  Sources say that also includes elected politicians.

Just because proceeds go to charity does not make it okay.

"If you want to go golfing, even with someone who's interests you deal with at the city, pay for it yourself. It's a simple as that," said Totto.

Also by law the Ethics Commission says it can't reveal the name of the company that is treating the employees to the golf.  By the way it was an annual tournament said to go back years.

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