County Council Chair Dominic Yagong was before the County Ethics Commission Wednesday to answer charges of conflict of interest. County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi, although not named in the complaint, showed up at the meeting to help defend Chair Yagong. Yagong as County Council Chair appointed Kawauchi to the position of County Clerk and is her supervisor.
Yagong is accused of being in and working in the County Elections Office. The conflict comes from the fact that Yagong’s daughter Chelsea is running to replace him on the Council as the Council Member for District 1, Hamakua, and Dominic’s proximity to sensitive election materials could be an issue..
“There’s a potential for a conflict of interest,” John Dill, chairman of the Board of Ethics, told Yagong. “And that’s what we’re trying to get to the bottom of. And I’m sorry that you feel and have stated publicly this is a silly distraction, but really all we’re trying to do is to preserve the integrity of the democratic process for the County of Hawaii voters. So that they have some shred of faith that their vote does count,”
State law says that nobody may serve as a precinct official if they have a close relative running for office. Technically, it’s likely that Yagong has not violated the letter of the law, as he is not serving as a “precinct official” — and he stated in the meeting he had no desire to be a precinct official. But Yagong has been in secured areas of the Elections Office, and has had an unusual amount of involvement with the County Elections Office for a member of the Hawaii County Council….albeit not as a precinct official, but in serving as the boss of the Hawaii County Clerk.
Yagong and Kawauchi responded to the ethics complaint against Yagong by going on the offensive and accusing the Chair of the Ethics Commission, John Dill, of unethical behavior, with quite heated exchanges. Yagong accused Dill of trying to get his (Dill’s) brother a job in the office of the Hawaii County Council. Kawauchi accused Dill of meddling in her office, because Dill wrote a letter asking that the County Elections Office be put under the control of the state, because of numerous concerns from the public and state elections officials about Kawauchi’s readiness to handle an election.
Kawauchi said to Dill, “You have an ethics problem is what I think you’ve got, because you’re trying to get into the operations of our office.”
Dill responded, “I wrote a letter requesting that others look into the operations of the office of elections as a private citizen, because of the concerns that were surfacing by the public at large in the elections.”
Yagong also expressed concern about the press being present at and reporting on the Ethics Commission meeting.
The Ethics Commission postponed the matter until their next meeting on October 10, to allow Yagong and Kawauchi to file any complaints against the Ethics Commission Chair for possible conflict of interest.