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Embattled city ethics chief Totto steps down

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    Honolulu Ethics Commission, Executive Director and Legal Counsel Charles W. Totto is photographed amongst investigation files.

Honolulu’s longtime city ethics director has agreed to step down after several years of butting heads with city leaders and facing upheaval on his staff.

The City’s Ethics Commission announced the decision to part ways with Executive Director Charles Totto after meeting for more than an hour in closed session Wednesday.

Totto, who has written advisory opinions against mayors, Council members and other powerful people over a span of more than a decade, listened to the announcement in person while flanked by his lawyer, former mayor Peter Carlisle.

Carlisle announced last month that he’s running to reclaim that seat.

“This is an unfortunate end to a career devoted to demanding ethics in city government,” Carlisle told the commission. “As a friend, my opinion is this was undeserved and shabby treatment for a devoted employee of the city.”

Critics of Totto say he has long gone unchecked while conducting investigations subjectively. Supporters, however, believe the director should have the authority to conduct investigations without fear of political influence.

Totto has clashed over the commission’s independence — and, specifically, its budget — with Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s administration since Caldwell took office in 2013.

Many of those disagreements have been with Corporation Counsel Donna Leong, with Totto questioning her authority to assert control over his budget and personnel actions.

In March, he served a 30-day unpaid suspension for, among other things, allegedly fostering a stressful work environment. Upon his return, the commission informed him that it wanted its attorneys and investigators to complete daily work time sheets detailing their tasks in six-minute increments.

“The way that things have been handled with Chuck Totto have not been fair,” Natalie Iwasa, a Honolulu resident who frequently attends public meetings, told the commission before they went into closed session. Often, in situations where other public employees are being investigated, it’s difficult to get even basic details such as their identities, she said.

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  • I wonder who will replace him? John White?

    A tremendous loss for Oahu and a major win for everything wrong with local politics.

    You win again Mayor Caldwell.

  • The State Ethics Commission is leaderless right now. Mr. Totto should apply there even if the application deadline has passed. He would be a good interim while they find someone or just hire him. The State Ethics board are ordinary citizens.
    Good luck Mr. Totto!

  • Ethics in politics is an oxymoron. When you swim in that shark tank you will eventually get eaten. Politicians and government officials believe they are above the law and ethical behavior and in many cases they are.

  • Welcome back to unchecked and unfettered political corruption now that the bright shining light of ethics revelation has been extinguished. The black hole of closed doors, back room deals, and obfuscated transactions are the future of the city and county of Honolulu’s political operations and decision making. Caldwell now has at least two major black eyes: 1) a failed on-time and on-budget rail and 2) the elimination of ethics accountability. The so-called city ethics commission and the legislative and executive branches of the city government are now untrustworthy. All decisions and operations of the city and county of Honolulu are now suspect. ABC (Anyone But Caldwell).

  • Congratulations Mayor Caldwell, and I hope you enjoy this victory. You’ll be enjoying unemployment in six months.

    If ever I needed a reason to vote for Djou, HERE IT IS.

    • How about an example, Rick?

      Chuck Totto is a good and decent man who did a thankless job very well, with limited resources. It’s not a coincidence Mayor Caldwell had him fired right before the elections and as this rail mess was being exposed.

  • Chuck Totto is a good man who was just doing his job. The criminal cases against people like Andy Mirikitani, Rod Tam, Rene Mansho all started out as Ethics investigations. Sad day for Honolulu.

  • Victoria Marks, I have seldom been so disappointed in a person for whom I used to have such respect. Whatever the facts we, the public, are not privy to, you did a disservice to a very fine man and left the public believing that politics trumps ethics. I agree with Natalie, this is a very sad day. Thank you for your service, Chuck, and I too wish you all the best.

  • Caldwell needs to have his own hours’ long closed door session with the taxpaying public that will end his career in disgrace on election day. I can’t wait to chair that meeting!

  • I’m sure when Mayor Djou takes office in January he’ll very actively pursue bringing Chuck Totto back. Those two are birds of a feather. I’ve never been a fan of zealots or sticklers but in this case, and with this disgrace of a city administration, perhaps that’s exactly what we need for a term or two.

  • I hate to say people. a lot of folks unions ,city, state workers etc. like the status quo. If djou does get in he still has to fight with the city think one man can make a big difference..he not stopping rail.Thats what seem everybody is grumbling about.

  • Think about this. The commission informed Toto that it wanted Ethics Commission attorneys and investigators to complete daily work time sheets detailing their tasks in six-minute increments. Six-minute increments! That is insane. To accomplish that, attorneys and investigators would have to spend more time preparing daily time sheets than actually investigating ethics complaints or violations. The Ethics Commission Board members should be fired for such stupidity.

  • It is not necessary for those who commented to express sympathy for Mr. Totto. He is not the martyr who devoted his entire career administering his duties with objectivity and complete impartiality. His greatest shortcoming is that many of his decisions were clouded by his personal biases and subjectivities rather than having them based on the law.

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