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Ethics Board: No problem with Van Pernis ouster vote

The Board of Ethics on Wednesday made quick work dismissing a complaint against the chairman and vice chairwoman of the Leeward Planning Commission after former Leeward Commissioner Mark Van Pernis charged the pair operated outside the county charter and ethics code when the body voted to recommend his removal.

At issue for Van Pernis was a July 15 Planning Commission vote to send a letter to the County Council recommending agreement with Mayor Mitch Roth’s request to have Van Pernis removed, a topic that was scheduled before the council in the coming weeks.

Van Pernis has been a contentious member of the commission since his appointment in early 2020. Over the last year, he has been repeatedly accused of disrespectful conduct during meetings, which eventually led Roth to seek Van Pernis’ removal from the commission in April.

With one member of the six-member commission absent, a second commissioner abstaining because she was too new to feel comfortable voting, and Van Pernis a likely abstention or no vote, the commission made the motion to begin the removal vote but was told by corporation counsel that four votes would be needed to act.

The commissioners then withdrew their motion and second, and started a new motion to postpone a recommendation until the full commission was there. While that discussion was ongoing, Commissioner Clement Kanuha, who had been absent for the more than five hours the meeting had been ongoing, appeared via Zoom at 4:26 p.m., according to meeting transcripts.

The motion to postpone was then withdrawn and the commission subsequently voted 4-1, with one abstention and Van Pernis voting no, to recommend Van Pernis’ removal. The meeting then adjourned at 4:37 p.m.

It’s not known if Kanuha was contacted and alerted to the vote, but Van Pernis maintains he was.

Van Pernis called the action a “contrivance,” saying it was a “clear known violation regardless of the advice of counsel on both the charter matter and the quorum matter. … The damage was done — one vote was changed on the County Council.”

Both Planning Commission Chairman Mike Vitousek and Vice Chairwoman Barbara DeFranco defended their actions, saying there was a quorum for the vote once Kanuha arrived.

“If we didn’t have a quorum, corporation counsel would have stopped us,” Vitousek said. “We do take any accusation of ethical impropriety very seriously.”

Ethics Board members saw no reason to investigate further, voting unanimously to dismiss the petition because the accusations were not substantiated by the record.

“While the petitioner claimed the commission acted beyond its role, the record demonstrates the Leeward Planning Commission acted with patience, care and legal counsel in addressing this matter,” said Vice Chairman Larry Heintz.

Chairman David Wiseman took it a step further, chastising Van Pernis for reference Wiseman said he made to “some influence of politics in this board.”

“We are not political,” Wiseman said. “There is not space in anyone’s head here for politics.”

Email Nancy Cook Lauer at ncook-lauer@westhawaiitoday.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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