EXCLUSIVE: Senator violated ethics code for years

Published: Aug. 20, 2015 at 10:26 PM HST|Updated: Aug. 20, 2015 at 10:55 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The head of the state Ethics Commission said Thursday State Sen. Suzanne Chun Oakland has ignored his advice for five years that her involvement as the organizer of a popular children's event breaks the ethics code.

But Chun Oakland and the Children and Youth Day she coordinates are finally making some major changes with the annual event just six weeks away, because she is no longer able to use her office, staff and state resources to coordinate it.

Children and Youth Day is held at and around the State Capitol on the first Sunday each October.  It draws 40,000 people with families enjoying food, entertainment and more than 150 activities.

But Les Kondo, the head of the state Ethics Commission, said for years Chun Oakland has been inaccurately claiming that it's an official state event, meaning state taxpayers take on lots of liability, since unlike other groups, the event does not have to provide its own insurance.

"All of that is exposing the state, and this is beyond my pay grade as well, exposing the state to unnecessary and crazy amounts of liability that is not appropriate," Kondo said.

State Rep. John Mizuno, the state House vice speaker, and Chun Oakland asked legislative leaders to recognize Children and Youth day as an official state event, but Mizuno said, "The response was negative.  Limited, limited support for the Children and Youth Day at the Capitol and the other events for the month.""

Kondo said legislative leaders have repeatedly told him "consistently from 2011 forward that it is not part of the senator's official duties as a legislator to be involved in the event."

So that means this year Chun Oakland will no longer use her second-floor state Capitol office to store and create 25,000 goodie bags for kids. Instead they will be kept and assembled at St. Andrews Cathedral, across the street from the Capitol.

"The state and city permits, we have a number of folks that can actually sign instead of me.  We would have to indicate that it is not a state event, although I still don't agree with that," Chun Oakland said.

The senator got emotional as she explained she will have to remove her state office's phone number from fliers promoting the event that's just six weeks away.

"I think I have to re-do it, and find out what that cost is to take that off," Chun Oakland said, her voice choked with emotion during an emergency meeting of the Keiki Caucus Thursday.

Chun Oakland has asked Gov. David Ige to officially recognize Children and Youth Day as a state event.

"This is something we do need to address.  We want to make sure that people are above board in terms of what we're doing," Chun Oakland said.

Kondo said, "It's not appropriate for her to use office resources, staff, phone number, office, it's not appropriate for her to use state money to support the event."

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Chun Oakland has used money from her legislative allowance for Children and Youth Day.

She said the local office of Kiwanis International will pay the liability insurance for it this year, assuring that state taxpayers will no longer be held liable for any incidents during the event.