LIHU‘E — For unintentionally violating the county’s Code of Ethics, Kaua‘i County Councilmember Felicia Cowden has paid a $500 fine.
A 2019 county Board of Ethics complaint alleged that Cowden had used her role and position as a councilmember to secure the benefit of an expense-paid trip to attend a conference in Vologda, Russia, in 2019, and for having county staff use council letterhead to urge others to attend the conference, “which gave the impression attendance at the conference was being promoted by the Kaua‘i County Council,” according to the complaint.
Cowden denied these allegations.
The Board of Ethics did not go through a contested-case hearing, which was scheduled for February, and instead settled with fining Cowden $500, which she paid on Jan. 27.
This complaint occurred in the first six months of Cowden’s first term, in late 2018 and early 2019.
“This was a learning experience that confronted me at the very beginning of my time in office,” Cowden said.
Part of the issue surrounds the controversy involved with the name Russian Fort Elizabeth State Historical Park at Pa‘ula‘ula in Waimea.
Cowden said she was acting as a cultural bridge between the Hawaiian and Russian immigrant communities when an invitation to attend a June 2019 conference in Russia, the cost funded by Russia Center New York and American-Russian Cultural Cooperation Foundation, came to several community members cleaning-up the park.
“I hadn’t planned to go,” she said, nor did she choose who went to the conference.
Cowden sent a letter to several elected officials on the topic, including Gov. David Ige and state Senate President Ron Kouchi, which became part of the complaint.
In the week before the trip, Cowden said three people suddenly could not attend, with issues ranging from not being able to secure a passport to an emergency medical issue. With plans falling apart, Cowden joined the group as a citizen, not as a councilmember.
Cowden apologized for the confusion.
“The conference did not cost taxpayer money and was not influencing county policy,” she said.
The matter did not find resolution until January of this year.
Board of Ethics Vice Chair Mia Shiraishi said this timeline is not atypical.
“The Kaua‘i Board of Ethics followed the rules and regulations and provided due process for the complaint,” Shiraishi said in a statement Tuesday. “The length of the investigation and process was not out of the ordinary.”
Today, the council will discuss the issue in an executive (closed) session. Council Chair Arryl Kaneshio did not respond to a request for comment.
Monday, Cowden called the item a “non-issue.”
“An agreement was made and it is over with,” Cowden said.
Sabrina Bodon, public safety and government reporter, can be reached at 245-0441 or firstname.lastname@example.org.