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Ethics Board wants ‘informal hearing’ on Naeole-Beason complaint

Karin Stanton | Hawaii 24/7 Editor

The county Ethics Board voted Wednesday to move forward on a petition filed against Councilwoman Emily Naeole-Beason by a former campaign volunteer.

Pahoa resident Toni Robert filed a complaint just days before last month’s primary election, citing improper use of county property and equipment for personal or campaign purposes.

Robert’s petition also alleges Naeole-Beason “improperly engaged in a personal or business relationship as supervisor and subordinate.”

Previously, Naeole-Beason’s attorney, Brian De Lima, said the allegations are false and questioned the timing of the complaint. Naeole-Beason is in a run-off election against Fred Blas to retain her council seat for a third term.

Robert, however, said she believes Naeole-Beason’s actions were inappropriate and filed the petition with the Ethics Board shortly after learning about campaign restrictions.

In her petition, Robert said Naeole-Beason directed county staff to conduct campaign-related business in the county office, on county time and using such county resources as telephone and email.

The five-member board voted Wednesday unanimously to conduct an informal hearing into Robert’s allegations.

Board chairman John Dill called the petition “quite involved” and noted the board had the option to dismiss the complaint outright. However, the board vote unanimously to conduct an informal hearing, likely to be scheduled for next month’s regular meeting. That meeting comes eight days after the Nov. 2 General Election.

In her petition, Robert said she had first-hand knowledge that Naeole-Beason directed her paid county staff to order campaign T-shirts and bags from the office, and add to 1,000 brochures stickers that clearly marked the brochures originating from Naeole-Beason’s campain.

Additionally, Robert said, Naeole-Beason directed her to contact council office staff and use a county email address to complete a Facebook campaign project.

“This was nothing but campaign business,” Robert told the board.

Robert had printed copies of emails she said came from county email addresses that relate to campaign business.

She said her “conscience would not allow her to turn a blind eye,” although she holds no grudge against the two-term Puna councilwoman.

Robert said her previous campaign experience was with a non-incumbent candidate and she did not fully understand the rules and regulations dividing campaign and county business.

“I was a novice to this. There were no red flags,” Robert said.

After the hearing, Robert said she was pleased the board took her petition seriously and was looking forward to the next phase, during which the Ethics Board can request any person or any document be produced.

Naeole-Beason has been brought before this board several times, although allegations have largely been dismissed. She was levied a $300 fine by the state Campaign Spending Commission in 2008.

Naeole-Beason was not required to attend Wednesday’s hearing -and was absent – and has failed to return phone calls to her office.

On a related note, Hawaii 24/7 and Tiffany Edwards Hunt, of www.bigislandchronicle.com, have received all emails related to county accounts of Naeole-Beason and Gwen Kupahu, who serves as the councilwoman’s secretary and campaign treasurer.

The filed Uniform Information Practices Act request was made before Robert filed her petition.

Shortly after the hearing Wednesday, Corporation Counsel turned over 3,500 emails generated through county email addresses assigned to Naeole-Beason and Kupahu.

Those emails currently are under review by Hunt and Hawaii 24/7.

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