Wednesday, May 27, 2015

 

Ethics Commission: Is internal politics at work (again) to undermine Executive Director?


I could not attend today's meeting of the state Ethics Commission because it conflicted with The Good, Bad and Ugly at the State Capitol, but I did submit testimony in support of Les Kondo's work and questioning Speaker Souki's letter and its timing.

Ian Lind was there. Read his account:Under Fire: Hawaii Ethics Director Defends His Strict Ethical Views (Civil Beat, 5/27/2015). He also wrote earlier on his own blog: A “Dear Joe” letter regarding ethics (ilind.net, 5/27/2015).

Reading the Civil Beat article brought pangs of deja vu. I have seen this before. That is, apparent internal politics within the Ethics Commission itself fomenting a clash with its Executive Director. The earlier incident was hidden from the public by holding discussions in executive sessions, but wafting from behind the locked door came the acrid aroma of a hit job.

Speaker Souki's letter, whether spontaneous or solicited, clearly would have the effect of supporting an internal Commission faction seeking to oust Kondo. How well this works we may never know, or at least not for a while, because the Commission again retreated under cover of a secret executive session for their discussion.

In June, 2010 the Ethics Commission terminated its previous ED, Dan Mollway, who had served in that position with admirable reviews for more than 24 years. I attended their meetings and wrote extensively about the termination:

I come from a corporate background, with more than 20 years with General Electric. In that world, if there is an issue with an employee, one first sits down with the employee to discuss it. That did not happen with Mollway and does not appear to be the case with Les Kondo. Here's more deja vu, in a snip from the Civil Beat article:
“I feel like you guys have evaluated me on very limited limited interactions that you’ve had with me,” Kondo said. “You see me one time every month for two hours. But every month, I work 200 or more hours. Based on those numbers, you have very little personal information about what I do, and in many cases, I suggest that you have no personal information about my job performance.”

Kondo noted that his performance was rated as “outstanding” in his last evaluation in 2012.
Whatever politics is at work is hidden via the cover of the executive session. But what goes on in secret can eventually be revealed. Back in 2010 I felt strongly that the public was being locked out. Certainly, personnel matters are entitled to protection. But at that time, the Commission carried out almost the entirety of its discussion behind closed doors. That included discussion of what criteria applied to an evaluation or to a dismissal. Molway was dismissed, as far as the public knew, in a secret process carried out according to secret rules, if there were any at all. In fact, whether criteria were created specifically to allow a political assassination to take place was a valid concern.

So I requested a copy of the minutes on the basis that at least part of the executive sessions should have been completely open to the public, so that I, reporters, and interested members of the public could observe and possibly submit testimony.

The Commission apparently agreed with me, and said they would release minutes if I paid $268.20. That's absurd. Why should I have to pay anything for minutes of a meeting that should have been open to the public in the first place, with no admission charge?

From a letter I wrote to the Office of Information Practices:
The public records I seek are copies of minutes of executive sessions held from September 2009 through the time of my request. I plan to make at least one more request for minutes of the one or two sessions subsequent to my initial request. I understand that portions of the minutes may not be released.

At issue, and the motivation for the request, are the circumstances surrounding the dismissal of Ethics Commission Executive Director Daniel Mollway. While the specific personnel matters that the Commission may have discussed in executive session as well as their consultations with their attorneys may be wholly or in part unavailable to the public at least at this time, discussions that the Commission may have held with regard to process, qualifications or other matters would appear to be appropriate for disclosure. In fact, if any such discussions took place, they would be critical to understanding the decisionmaking process that resulted in Mollway’s sidelining and dismissal. As a result of Commission action, Mr. Mollway was placed on administrative leave starting on February 10 and his services were thus unavailable to the public and to the Legislature for most of the 2010 legislative session.

Any discussion regarding policy or process should have been held in open public session to begin with. By offering to release portions of the executive session minutes, the Commission is admitting as much.
OIP sided with the Commission.

In effect, they were supporting the Commission in holding discussions, behind the public's back, that should have been held in the open. There were no consequences imposed on the Commission for doing that.

No, I did not pay for the minutes. Given OIP's position, my only recourse would be to go to court for it, and that costs lots of money.

With regard to the current challenge to Les Kondo, clearly only the first salvo has been fired. It appears that he has considerable support from the public. Nevertheless, if a faction of the Commission is dedicated to his removal, it bodes ill for future harmony between the Commission itself and its staff. For the moment, at least, his position is also precarious. If there are factions in the Commission that want him out, watch for an unfavorable evaluation of some sort to begin with, and then for the axe to fall. 

A commission divided internally by politics cannot serve the public effectively, either.

There is a side issue here. Do Hawaii boards and commissions really know how to conduct evaluations or even, for that matter, how to set measurable objectives for staff performance? The corporate analogy breaks down rapidly because boards and commissions themselves may be driven more by politics than by managerial savvy. Politics is often a raw power struggle. At least in successful corporations there is a survival of the fittest process that ensures that the best are promoted and the worst are shed off. There is no such process at play in an appointed board or commission.

In other words, we may be witnessing another amateur job at least as far as management process is concerned.

Stay tuned.





 



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