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Ethics Board retracts Van Pernis vote

Now that Mark Van Pernis is no longer a commissioner on the Leeward Planning Commission, the Board of Ethics on Monday retracted a prior finding that he violated the ethics code.

The board first agreed to reconsider the vote and then dismissed the complaint, saying it was moot as Van Pernis is no longer on the commission.

The board last month voted unanimously that Van Pernis violated the “fair treatment” section of the county ethics code requiring elected and appointed officials to treat the public in a “courteous, fair and impartial manner.”

The petition was filed by Kathryn Hickey, an applicant before the planning commission who unsuccessfully sought an after-the-fact special permit for a wedding business on agricultural land. She said Van Pernis was rude to her and didn’t treat her with respect.

The ethics board last month had agreed, with Chairman David Wiseman saying there’s a fundamental notion of civility in government proceedings, and he, as a former judge, had often counseled opposing parties in proceedings to “be nice.”

That comment inspired a rebuttal from Van Pernis on Monday saying there was no definition in the ethics code for being nice.

“Has the board defined a standard for niceness?” he asked, adding the comment could discourage commissioners “from seeking truth or even doing their duties in favor of being nice.”

Van Pernis faced two ethics complaints after Mayor Mitch Roth asked the County Council to remove him from the planning commission.

Roth said he’d received numerous complaints about Van Pernis and his administration had to set a standard of conduct in light of state and county laws governing fair treatment and the aloha spirit. Van Pernis, Roth said, was creating a hostile work environment.

After months of delays, the council voted 5-4 last month to remove him, with Hilo Councilman Aaron Chung, Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy, Puna Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz, Hamakua Councilwoman Heather Kimball and Kohala Councilman Tim Richards on the prevailing side.

In a prior vote, the Board of Ethics had found that Van Pernis hadn’t violated the ethics code when he didn’t disclose he lived in a neighboring subdivision to the 725-acre Palamanui development before he sponsored amendments that could reroute Palamanui traffic away from his subdivision.

The board took up the draft finding on that decision Monday and agreed to amend it before formalizing it at its October meeting. In particular, the board wanted to strengthen language about the need to disclose any potential conflict of interest before voting on an issue, using a similar finding the board had made some years ago requiring Kierkiewicz to disclose relationships before voting on certain issues.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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