WAILUKU - Complaints about Maui County Council Member Mike White's ties to the visitor industry received an initial review by the Maui County Board of Ethics on Wednesday.
The board met behind closed doors in executive session to examine the complaints filed by Haiku resident Kai Nishiki and Kihei resident Buck Joiner. Both alleged that White acted improperly when he introduced a resolution calling for more funding for the Maui Visitors Bureau, because he continues to work as general manager of the Ka'anapali Beach Hotel and until recently was a board member of MVB.
"Mr. White has a conflict of interest," Nishiki wrote in her complaint.
White did not appear or testify before the board Wednesday. He has previously denied that he has a conflict of interest and has said he is doing his job as a council member to stimulate the economy.
The Maui Visitors Bureau received a $3 million grant from Maui County this year, less than it received in previous years. If approved, White's proposal would not actually appropriate additional funds for MVB, but only urge Mayor Alan Arakawa to request the money. The proposal is pending before the Maui County Council.
Nishiki, who ran unsuccessfully against White in 2010, and Joiner noted that Ka'anapali Beach Hotel is a member of MVB, and that, before he was elected, White had lobbied the council on behalf of the organization.
Joiner said White had "long and deep" ties to MVB.
"Council Member White is trying to shovel money to his very good and longtime friends at the Maui Visitors Bureau," Joiner said in testimony Wednesday.
Nishiki said that if White keeps his job at Ka'anapali Beach Hotel and continues to serve on the boards of organizations like the Maui Hotel & Lodging Association, "there needs to be clarity as to which hat he is wearing when he is working at the council."
"Writing resolutions for the Maui Visitors Bureau and speaking on behalf of his hotel's financial gain through partnership with MVB while you are chairing a committee certainly doesn't show a clear distinction," she said.
According to its rules, when the Board of Ethics receives a complaint against a county official, it first reviews the complaint to determine if it is complete. It may then schedule an informal hearing to obtain more information. After the informal hearing, the board may issue an advisory opinion to the subject of the complaint, or, if it finds probable cause for an ethics violation, it can schedule a formal hearing.
Both the informal and formal hearing may be held in executive session, although the subject of the complaint may request an open hearing, according to the board rules.
After the board issues an opinion on a complaint, it must release a summarized version of the opinion - although all information identifying the subject of the complaint must be redacted, according to the rules.
In cases where it finds a severe ethics violation, the board can also pass on its findings to a higher authority or petition for impeachment.
After the public portion of Wednesday's meeting, both Joiner and Nishiki said they were disappointed that the board's review of their complaints would be substantially behind closed doors.
"It's frustrating," Nishiki said.
Joiner said that he hoped any opinion issued by the board would address not just the resolution currently pending before the council but also any future actions that might relate to the visitors bureau.
"I don't want to come here every time an issue comes up with Mike White and MVB," he said.
* Ilima Loomis can be reached at email@example.com.
* This article includes a correction from the original published on Thursday, Feb. 10, 2011. Kihei resident Buck Joiner said he is not a critic of the Maui Visitors Bureau, but only opposes county funding of the organization. The article incorrectly stated his position. The Maui News apologizes for the error.