Ethics commission fines Honolulu councilman $6,500
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – City councilman Nestor Garcia has apologized and paid thousands of dollars in ethics fines for failing to disclose a conflict of interest in 52 votes before the Honolulu City Council.
Garcia's $6,500 fine, which he paid last month, is the largest financial penalty imposed by the Honolulu Ethics Commission on a city official since the city began issuing ethics fines four years ago.
Garcia represents Mililani Town, Waipahu, Makakilo, Waikele, Royal Kunia and Village Park on the council.
The Ethics Commission found Garcia failed to disclose conflicts of interest arising from his employment as executive director of the Kapolei Chamber of Commerce, which has paid him $60,000 a year as its executive director since 2009.
"It was Nestor Garcia's employer testifying on issues before him that he's gonna vote on as a council member," said Chuck Totto, executive director and legal counsel of the ethics commission.
The Kapolei business group that employs Garcia supports the city's $5.2 billion rail transit system and Garcia has supported rail for years, long before he got the chamber of commerce job. But the ethics commission found contrary to city ethics law, Garcia failed to disclose that potential conflict before making 38 council votes about rail and 14 council votes on other issues in which Kapolei had an interest.
"I don't mean to be rude, but it is not rocket science. It is something that he and his staff should have known that he had to watch out for," Totto said. "While this was occurring, he was the council chair, one of the highest ranking officials in city government."
Garcia released a written statement saying he expressed his "... sincerest apology to my family, my friends, fellow council members and constituents for my shortcomings. This was a totally preventable situation. The failure was mine."
Garcia did file annual disclosure statements listing his $5,000-a-month Kapolei Chamber of Commerce job, so the ethics commission said it's clear he wasn't trying to hide his outside employment.
"I take full responsibility," Garcia said in his statement. "However, at no time did i intend to deceive, mislead or in any way deliberately violate any of the applicable laws …"
Hawaii law nullifies a council member's vote if that person failed to disclose a conflict of interest before voting. The ethics commission found none of the outcomes on the 52 measures Garcia voted on would have changed if Garcia's vote was stricken from the record.
The ethics investigation also found Garcia sent or received 82 emails on his city account for non-city related chamber matters.
Garcia stepped down as council chair in June 2011, claiming he wanted to clear a path for new council leadership. He claimed he was leaving the post voluntarily and he wasn't stepping down in anticipation of being ousted by a new majority.
His departure as chairman came three months after a Honolulu television station first reported his possible conflict of interest with the chamber of commerce job and his votes in favor of rail.
Garcia will be leaving the council when his term expires at the end of the year.
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