Cowden fined for unintentional ethics violations

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 sbodon@thegardenisland.com.

15 Comments
  1. billyjoebob April 7, 2021 3:13 am Reply

    Just grateful she isn’t being labeled a racist. Phew.


  2. Mona April 7, 2021 3:26 am Reply

    Thank you Felicia for putting yourself out there for Kaua’i- you always go the extra mile,,, Kaua’i is very fortunate to have you!!!


  3. Serious April 7, 2021 3:34 am Reply

    This is a serious case of foreign influence and ethics by Cowden.

    The county of Kauai and state of Hawaii reds to investigate this. The federal government also needs to investigate.

    The county and Cowden failed to go through the due process on reviewing the Russia trip.

    Maybe because the county just created an HR department but the county of Kauai has county attorneys to advise if her PAID trip to RUSSIA was ethical.

    Anyone who serve in as an employee for the county, state, or fed gov knows through personnel training that this is a “No No”.

    Wow how could she be that ignorant and where was the oversight.

    She could have not secretly planned the trip to Russia. Maybe her leave was lost like the four (4) audits against the county of Kauai proved malfeasance and continued abuse of the leave and sick leave policy.

    There needs to be further investigation.

    To have a foreign government like Russia who is a threat to America and the state of Hawaii to heaven influence and unethical influence on a county of Kauai official is Alarming.

    This is not a minor incident or error.

    This is like the Koucher case.


  4. nobody April 7, 2021 5:55 am Reply

    That’s all they could come up with?
    Cleary she is not part of the Rice Street gang as this would of been a non issue.


  5. Imua44 April 7, 2021 6:15 am Reply

    Felicia cares for the people. It didn’t take long for the boys club to try to get the lone wahine.
    There has been and is today some council relationships that are questionable.
    Manini stuff. In suppor of Felicia


  6. schar freeman April 7, 2021 6:54 am Reply

    Please let sleeping dogs lay….this is a non issue occurring years ago and does NOT need to be brought into the light of day. What is the intention of this publication for this article to begin with? If it is about shaming and piling dirt upon a council member? Well then lets talk about Arthur Brun!


  7. jkh April 7, 2021 7:31 am Reply

    What a joke. There is no such thing as an unintentional ethics violation. It is literally your ethical obligation to know and follow all the ethical guidelines for your position. Accepting free gifts as a public servant is a big no no. It has been for hundreds of years. She should be ashamed of herself.


    1. Rev Dr Malama April 7, 2021 5:03 pm Reply

      I concur…..
      No biggie???? Either side of the aisle (isle) says Ethics matter and yet no admits that their kaka stinks!
      Political business as usual on Kauai but the whole world is watching!


  8. Doug April 7, 2021 9:34 am Reply

    ….and the graft goes on and on and on…………..


  9. Lani April 7, 2021 2:20 pm Reply

    First and foremost, I see that she has a few people saying “oh let it go”….NO…She should be REMOVED. She may “care” about people, but I don’t recall seeing anything about an ongoing ethics violation investigation during the election and that could have changed many decisions to vote for her (I wouldn’t have). This should have been disclosed. And there is NO SUCH THING as an “unintentional” ethics violation…LOL…that’s some made up excuse for “I broke the rules, but I don’t want to own it”. You and you alone are responsible for knowing what is deemed unethical in your position, no matter what field of work it is in, but especially as an elected official. Kauai deserves better than this.


  10. William Zeffiro April 7, 2021 3:45 pm Reply

    Need to recall all council members!! Do background checks on all potential candidates and vet them before being able to run for office.


  11. Atta and barnard April 7, 2021 4:28 pm Reply

    They all are unethical. Every man, woman and child is corruptible. Arthur running drugs. Bernard stealing gas, kawakami voting in favor of the legal weed dispensary he was invested in.


  12. GB Local April 7, 2021 6:42 pm Reply

    Big mahalo Felicia for all the ways you diligently get out and talk to the people you represent! Epic business /employment challenges in Hanalei the past month with the landslide and all. Hundreds of people out of work or can’t get to work & businesses with no customers.
    And this is what our council is putting their attention on? It’s a sad state of Hawaii fiefdoms.
    You / We all can do so much more aloha, my friends.
    Felicia is the only council member I saw walking around the community the past year and seeing how we are doing.


  13. nobody April 7, 2021 9:31 pm Reply

    Ethics violations have always been the corrupt enforcement arm of the ruling political class.


  14. Wa Hine April 8, 2021 10:13 am Reply

    The Russian Fort…Pa’ula’ula is on the WEST SIDE of the island which she doesn’t represent. Why would someone offer her a trip unless it was to try to curry favor with the rest of the council? I seriously doubt anyone would have offered her an all expenses paid trip had she been a “private citizen” as claimed. Just admit you messed up!


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