Ching ethics investigation findings to go online

LIHU’E — The findings of the Kaua’i Board of Ethics investigation that led to Michael vestigation Ching’s resignation from the Police Commission will be posted on the county’s Web site, it was decided yesterday.

That decision was made after members of the ethics board talked about what can and cannot be released at its regular meeting.

Board member Bill Clifford said that everyone on the board should have a clear understanding of what can be released.

Deputy County Attorney Margaret Sueoka explained that names of witnesses involved in the case were blacked out, and a redacted (blackedout) copy was forwarded to the County Council.

Sueoka further explained that the redacted copy then became public record.

Sueoka also pointed out to board members that they might want to consider changing the board’s rules on how future information is released.

“Take a look at your rules that were adopted in 1988. It does say in there that there are some things that are a matter of public record,” said Sueoka.

“You might want to consider amending your rules to provide a vehicle to making it public,” said Sueoka.

Sueoka indicated that the board’s nearly-20-year-old rules do not address release of information on the Internet, for example.

Board member Sandy Helmer pointed out that not just the Ching findings would be posted, but any other findings of the board.

The five volunteer members of the ethics board are appointed by the mayor, with approval by the County Council.

The body initiates investigations, and receives and investigates charges of violations of the county’s Code of Ethics. The members also give advisory opinions in relation to the ethics code.

Clifford said he wanted to know who or what gives the board the authority to release information.

Sueoka replied that the state Office of Information Practices considers the public’s right to know tantamount over the privacy rights of the individuals involved in a violation.

“The public has a greater right to know when someone violates or is found guilty of a violation of ethics,” she said.

Clifford said he wanted to be sure what can be released, because “this county does not need any more lawsuits.” Sueoka said that the OIP’s position about releasing information is consistent with past practices, such as on decisions having to do with labor arbitration.

“When the decisions are final, the names of witnesses and any identifying information is redacted.

It is analogous to a court ruling, and it is a public document,” Sueoka said.

“The public has the right to know what its elected and appointed officials are doing,” she said.

Sueoka pointed out that the board’s rules require the release of information, and so does the state OIP.

Clifford pointed out that he was concerned about board members doing things on their own.

Helmer said that she had received phone calls concerning Ching’s resignation, but did not share the findings.

Sueoka added that none of the board members should be releasing information as individuals.

“That should be the understanding that you all have. I think you all do have that understanding,” she said.

The county’s Web site is www.kauai.gov.

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