Rail votes invalid?

Rail votes invalid?
Michael Lilly (on right)
Michael Lilly (on right)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - More than three miles of the Honolulu rail transit system has already been built. But now, a Honolulu Ethics Commission member is raising questions about the validity of dozens of City Council votes that went into approving the project.

Michael Lilly, a former state Attorney General and vice chair of the Ethics Commission, cited a 1983 appellate court decision that said that any votes taken by a council member who has a conflict of interest -- and does not disclose that conflict -- is automatically disqualified.

Lilly said no lawsuit or court action is needed to set aside the vote.

"If you vote as a board member or as a commissioner or council member without disclosing a conflict, that vote is null and void. It didn't happen," he said.

That could derail any of number of rail-related votes by a half dozen current and former Council members, including Romy Cachola, Donovan Dela Cruz, Nestor Garcia, Todd Apo, Ikaika Anderson and Ann Kobayashi.

Each is accused of receiving hundreds of dollars in free meals and drinks from pro-rail lobbyists.

City Council Budget Chair Ann Kobayashi, a rail opponent, said Lilly's interpretation would create a logistical nightmare.

"What do we do, do we call the same people back? Do we re-vote with new people? I don't know about that," she said.

City Council Chair Ernie Martin has asked City Corporation Counsel for a legal opinion. That opinion is still pending but Donna Leong, the city's top lawyer, told the commission in a letter last month that it is overstepping its bounds.

"I do not believe the Commission has the authority to determine that a violation nullifies a Council members vote," she said.

In the 1983 ICA ruling, the vote of former Councilman Hiram Fong Jr. on a controversial Windward Oahu development was declared invalid because he fully didn't disclose an indirect conflict of interest.

The conflict involved the lawmaker's interest in Senator Fong's Plantation and Gardens, which stood to benefit from approval of a nearby housing project called Pulama Gardens. Fong, the son of U.S. Sen. Hiram Fong, had voted with the council majority to approve the project.

The ICA ruling by Chief Justice James Burns found that the younger Fong "would have benefited from road improvements" to be built by the housing project.

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