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Ethics Board asked to invalidate Rodenhurst: Petition alleges Richards should have recused himself on confirmation

A Big Island resident is asking the county Board of Ethics to invalidate Public Works Director Ikaika Rodenhurst’s confirmation by the County Council, saying Kohala Councilman Tim Richards should have recused himself from voting because he served as a reference on Rodenhurst’s resume.

Cory Harden, a frequent testifier at council and commission meetings, said without Richards’ vote, there wouldn’t have been enough votes to confirm Rodenhurst. She also asked in the Jan. 24 petition that council members in the future be instructed that they should recuse themselves from voting on appointees when they serve as professional references.

“Ikaika Rodenhurst was improperly confirmed as Public Works Director because Tim Richards was listed in his capacity as Councilmember as a reference, yet, when asked, declined to recuse himself from voting on the confirmation,” Harden said in her petition.

She cited Section 2-83 of the ethics code on fair treatment, which says, “No officer or employee shall use or attempt to use the officer’s or employee’ s official position to secure or grant unwarranted privileges, exemptions, advantages,contracts, or treatment, for oneself or others.”

Richards said Friday he was honored to serve as a reference for Rodenhurst. He said everything about the process was transparent and involved the community “like never before.”

“I’m kind of baffled why this is an issue with people. We’re talking about getting the best person we can to move our county forward,” Richards said. “I firmly believe he can do a good job for us.”

Besides, Richards said, “I don’t do the hiring — that’s the mayor. We just do the confirmations.”

Kona Councilwoman Rebecca Villegas and Puna Councilman Matt Kanealii-Kleinfelder had questioned Richards’ relationship with Rodenhurst during the confirmation process, with Villegas asking Richards to recuse himself because in her mind, he had a “definite conflict.”

Richards told the council he knew Rodenhurst’s great-grandfather, who worked for the plantation in Kohala, “and so our families knew each other generations ago.”

Harden said Richards being listed as a reference on material distributed before the meeting showed his mind was already made up, even though new information came out during the meeting that caused some council members to question Rodenhurst’s qualifications under the charter.

Mayor Mitch Roth said Rodenhurst met the minimum qualifications in terms of work experience, and Human Resources Director Bill Brilhante said his department’s informal review agreed with that.

But five council members pushed the administration on whether Rodenhurst’s description of how he coordinated road contractors, engineers, utilities and state and county agencies as a project manager qualified as the required supervisory experience specified in the charter for the $132,577 position.

North Kona Councilman Holeka Inaba and South Kona/Ka‘u Councilwoman Maile David joined Villegas and Kanealii-Kleinfelder in voting no. If Richards had recused himself, the vote would have been 4-4, insufficient for a confirmation.

The Board of Ethics is scheduled to take up the issue at its March 10 meeting.

Email Nancy Cook Lauer at
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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