Ethics Complaint Alleges Council Member Should Not Vote on Injection Well Settlement

September 18, 2019, 10:13 AM HST · Updated September 18, 1:04 PM
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An ethics complaint has been filed against Maui County Council member Tamara Paltin, alleging that she should not be voting on the Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility injection wells case – because she was once on the board of one of the plaintiff organizations which originally filed the lawsuit.

The complaint, filed with the Maui County Board of Ethics, states that in 2012 one of the plaintiffs to file against the county was the West Maui Preservation Association (WMPA). According to the complainant Paltin in 2017 was the Director of the WMPA and then in 2018 she was the President of the organization.

Then in 2019 the complaint states that Paltin “twice voted, as a Council Member, to pass Resolutions that would give substantial financial benefits directly to the WMPA, while failing to disclose her prior roles with them.”

“These facts present a clear ‘undisclosed conflict of interest,'” and that “her actions in participating in those votes violate the Code of Ethics.”

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Paltin responded to our request for comment (as detailed below), calling it “frivolous” and “a smear campaign brought on by a party that supports polluting our ocean waters with inadequate oversight.”

Last week the council Governance, Ethics and Transparency Committee voted to settle the Lahaina Wastewater Reclamation Facility injection well case, of which Paltin was a voting member.

The settlement matter will be heard this Friday, Sept. 20, before the full County Council along with a public hearing, at 9 p.m. The next ethics commission meeting was scheduled for today, Sept. 18, however the board has since canceled that meeting and rescheduled the matter for Oct. 9.

As a matter of procedure, the board first hears complaints in Executive Session and then decides if it warrants a public hearing. The Oct. 9 meeting will be in Executive Session.

Corporation Counsel officials confirmed the board was meeting because of a complaint but could not say what the complaint was about or who it was filed against.

On the agenda for the canceled Sept. 18 meeting, it stated that the board was set to discuss under “New Business” a complaint filed by a “member of the public against a County official alleging violations of Sections 10-1., 10-4.1.b., 10-4.1.c., 10-4.1.e., and 10-4.4. of the Revised Charter of the County of Maui.”

Paltin provided the following response to Maui Now when asked about the complaint:

“Mahalo for this email, this is the first that I have heard of a complaint filed against me and the first that I have heard of a special meeting.

It is interesting because I have disclosed about my previous affiliation with WMPA on my campaign website as well as my candidate disclosure form. I had resigned from this non-profit organization prior to taking office and I have absolutely no financial interest directly or indirectly and I served this non-profit as a volunteer.

This is both a frivolous waste of taxpayer monies in pursuing a complaint and ludicrous given the history of former non-profit director(s)/executives voting on items that involved their former or current non-profits.

For example: former council member Gladys Baisa regularly voted on MEO funding issues despite being a former paid executive director of MEO, Council member Yuki Lei Sugimura was previously involved in Wailuku First Friday’s and now votes to give them monies through the budget process, former council member Don Couch even voted to give Boys and Girls Club Maui money while still being on the board and in the most recent Board of Ethics meeting council member Tasha Kama was cleared to vote for the Bank of America case that her non-profit organization, Nā Poe Kōkua, which she is currently a member on has brought action of the Bank of America and should the case be successful she would benefit by receiving a loan, that others on our council wouldn’t benefit from (if not Native Hawaiian or Filipino).”

When asked about the complaint Mayor Mike Victorino said he had heard about the complaint but did not know the details. When told of Paltin’s response about other council members in the past voting on issues they had a previous relationship with, Victorino said she shouldn’t “be making up excuses” and should just let the matter be “heard before the board.”

“I didn’t file a complaint, a member of the public did, but I think it should go through the process and be heard before the board,” said Mayor Mike Victorino.

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