Local Connection: Ethics Commission - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Local Connection: Ethics Commission

By Rick Blangiardi

Time and time again we have been disappointed by politicians who succumb to the temptations of power - taking free gifts, spending taxpayer money on themselves and being wined and dined by people trying to influence them.

That's why we need strong, independent and highly visible enforcement of our ethics laws.

Visibility is important because we have a right to know when government employees or elected officials abuse their positions.

So it is upsetting to see the Honolulu Ethics Commission going in the opposite direction…walking away from visibility making it harder to know what's going on.

In a very disturbing decision the commission voted to muzzle executive director Chuck Totto…forcing him to consult with commissioners before he can respond to media questions.

The reason seems to be Totto's direct answers to Hawaii News Now… when we asked whether council members' votes on the rail project could be nullified due to secret gifts from lobbyists.

Chuck Totto is an attorney and highly qualified to educate the public on these matters. Before being city ethics director he was the state consumer advocate.

Most of the part-time commissioners who voted to muzzle him are former judges. Judges may know about law, but spend their careers isolated and insulated from media contact. They don't know anything about public communication.

I can't think of anyone worse to be advising the ethics director about what he can and cannot say to the public.

This is a bad policy made under pressure from special interests the very thing our ethics laws are supposed to prevent.

It should be reversed and Chuck Totto reassured that not only can he work with the media…he should be encouraged to do so.

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