The crimes detailed in the 29-page federal indictment of County Councilmember Arthur Brun describe an almost unfathomable betrayal of the public trust and a deeply troubling commentary on the personal damage that can be done by addiction.
Brun is an elected public official who happens to be vice chair of the council’s Public Safety and Human Services Committee. For such a public official to be the mastermind behind a drug-distribution ring involving at least 11 other criminals defies credulity.
We understand why Mayor Derek S.K. Kawakami and County Council Chair Arryl Kaneshiro focused on the personal damage that can be done by addiction in their statements reacting to Brun’s arrest. We believe, however, that both Kawakami and Kaneshiro should have realized that this drug ring goes vastly past the realm of a personal drug problem. This is wholesale betrayal of the island.
Understandably, the arrest and the subsequent description of the pathetic Brun in chains and jail garb at his arraignment in Honolulu brought cries of public outrage and demands that Brun be banished from the County Council. A petition started circulating on change.org that quickly attracted several hundred signatures to a demand that Brun be ousted.
A review of the relevant County Charter sections, unfortunately, reveals that, unless Brun chooses to resign his seat, there is precious little that can be done, as a practical matter, to get him out of county government.
The most salient lesson in this is that the Charter Review Commission and the County Council need to reexamine the charter to try to find a way to deal with a situation like this. Understandably, the idea that a councilmember might run a drug ring and, in the process, strike a police officer with his vehicle during a traffic stop and then flee, only to toss a bag of illegal drugs from his car as he ran, was probably inconceivable to the drafters of the charter.
This thought process has to begin from the justice reality that, as genuinely evil as the crimes Brun allegedly committed are, he has not been convicted and is entitled, as are we all, to the presumption of innocence until he pleads or is found guilty.
Brun is, as a practical matter, in his official capacity as a sitting councilmember, beyond the reach of the County Charter and Hawai‘i statutes for several reasons.
First, nothing in the descriptions of the duties of councilmembers in the charter prohibits them from engaging in criminal activity unless it involves financial or related crimes in which the county could be seen as the victim. Not even sexual or domestic assault will require that a member be thrown off the council. Running a meth ring is no different.
The county Code of Ethics, enforced by the Board of Ethics, likewise is powerless to address the crimes of which Brun is accused. The code and the board can only focus on conflicts of interest, financial misconduct, failure to disclose business connections and using one’s office for personal gain. Nothing in the Brun indictment intersects that kind of misconduct.
The Board of Ethics is empowered to go to court to impeach a councilmember, but only if the person has violated the Code of Ethics. Again, Brun’s alleged crimes do not meet that standard.
Brun can’t be recalled because the charter limits the recall power to elected officials serving four-year terms in office. There are only two of those, Kawakami and Prosecuting Attorney Justin Kollar. The Charter Review Commission, several years ago considered, but rejected, a charter change to make it possible to recall county councilmembers, who serve two-year terms.
Section 23 of the charter does make it possible for citizens to petition a court to impeach a county official for malfeasance or misfeasance. Brun has not been convicted of either, and only stands accused right now.
Moreover, Section 23 requires that the impeachment be initiated by petitions signed by 5% of the registered voters on the island. That would mean about 2,200 signatures. They must be written signatures affixed to legally constituted petition forms. Online petitions are irrelevant.
The signatures would have to be gathered and then individually verified by the county clerk and then the court. A court proceeding would then be initiated. All of this would take time. Brun’s current term in office ends in December. Even if he were removed, the council would then have to go through the process of naming a successor.
In other words, the reality is that there is precious little that can be done to oust Arthur Brun unless he voluntarily resigns. We hope he will do so, but we understand that such an action may not be at the top of his to-do list at this time. Plus, he may need the salary money to fund his defense. We can all only seethe about these facts.
We share the frustration of Kaua‘i residents with this state of affairs. It should not be possible for an accused meth-ring leader to remain on the County Council. However, there is really only one available approach — changing the charter. The Charter Review Commission must begin an examination of how to do this immediately, even if that means scheduling daily emergency meetings until a solution is found.
The frustration that the county is impotent in the face of alleged misconduct so brazen and damaging is palpable. We share it. But if Kaua‘i County is an entity committed to the law, we are limited to changing the applicable laws so nothing like this can happen in the future.