- Associated Press - Thursday, May 28, 2015

HONOLULU (AP) - The executive director of the Hawaii Ethics Commission said no decision was reached by the panel Wednesday during a discussion of his performance.

Executive Director Les Kondo told The Associated Press after the commission meeting ended in the late afternoon that the panel will continue its discussion, but he says no date for that session has been set.

The commission held a closed-door meeting to evaluate Kondo following complaints that he was going too far with ethics rules.

The evaluation talk was held after House Speaker Joseph Souki sent a four-page letter to the commission complaining about its “recent attempts to prohibit common and regular practices,” including receiving gifts, meals and charitable fundraiser tickets of a certain value. His letter was prompted by a recommendation by the commission that lawmakers should reject a gift basket, he said.

Teachers also have been upset about a commission recommendation that educators who organize and chaperone educational trips shouldn’t get a free ride from tour companies.

“It’s not my job to make legislators and employees happy,” Kondo told the commission Wednesday before the five-member panel went into session. “It’s not my job to tell people what they want to hear or let them do what they want to do. It’s my job to do what’s right, not what’s popular.”

Kondo defended his interpretation about what gifts lawmakers should not accept, saying that just because lawmakers were accepting lavish meals or using state funds to buy themselves birthday cakes in the past doesn’t mean it was right. The ethics commission’s staff of 10 oversees more than 60,000 state employees and government officials, which can be a lonely job, Kondo said.

“We are now investigating and enforcing more violations. … There are growing pains, for sure, but we’re in this together,” Kondo said.

Several government officials, including Bruce Coppa, who was chief of staff to former Gov. Neil Abercrombie; and former Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona spoke in support of Kondo during the meeting, while other officials mailed in letters praising his work.

“He’s not afraid to fight the fight that needs to be fought,” said Kristin Izumi-Nitao, executive director of the Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission.

Hawaii schools Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi said in a letter that a school staff member felt like Kondo was interrogating her while discussing whether teachers should be allowed to go on a planned trip. In that instance, although the commission didn’t approve of the trip, it allowed it to go forward because it was happening in a matter of weeks.

In the public meeting, commissioners spent 40 minutes discussing how to handle whether teachers should be allowed to go on previously planned trips for which they are reimbursed but reached no conclusion, despite the fact that there are three upcoming school trips in June.

“I think everyone is concerned about the parents and the students,” said Commissioner Melanie Wood. “That’s not what we have to deal with. The Ethics Commission has to deal with practice and people’s compliance with the ethics law.”

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