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Mayoral candidates spar over Ethics Commission


    Moderator Daryl Huff chats with former U.S. Rep. Charles Djou, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell and former Mayor Peter Carlisle just before Monday night’s televised forum on Insights at PBS Hawaii.

Former U.S. Rep. Charles Djou and former Mayor Peter Carlisle ganged up on Mayor Kirk Caldwell at a live mayoral candidate forum Monday night, accusing him of engineering the resignation of longtime Ethics Commission Executive Director Chuck Totto.

Caldwell denied the charge flatly during the live forum on Insights on PBS Hawaii broadcast. The fiery exchange over the city ethics occurred just after the hour-long portion of the forum that was broadcast live over television ended, and during an extra seven minutes available only on

Asked by moderator Daryl Huff about what issue has not received enough attention this election, Djou said “how the city Ethics Commission has been completely railroaded.”

Totto, shortly after Caldwell took office, “started asking the wrong questions” by delving into a luau sponsored by the mayor’s supporters, Djou said. It was “disturbing” that Totto resigned under pressure from Caldwell and his appointees. “I didn’t always agree with (Totto),” he said, recalling his time on the City Council. “But I thought he was good, hard-working, dedicated public servant.”

Totto had no problems during three previous administrations “and when Kirk became mayor, he had all this turbulence,” Djou said, adding that he would work to have Totto reinstated.

Totto agreed to resign in mid-June after a tumultuous few months which saw him suspended without pay (for, among other things, fostering a bad work environment) and forced along with other staffers to log his work activities in six-minute blocks. Totto has also complained that Corporation Counsel Donna Leong had micro-managed the commission office, eliminating $6,000 in training for city employees and “unilaterally changing our budget.” For several months, the commission restricted what Totto, other commission staff, and even themselves, could say to the media, but rescinded that requirement amid public outcry.

The commission was designed to act independent of other agencies, but is attached to the Department of Corporation Counsel for administrative purposes.

Carlisle, who has been Totto’s attorney during his clashes with members of the seven-member commission, said “absolutely and unequivocally there has been a complete evisceration of ethics in the City and County of Honolulu. It’s been booted out the door. There is no Ethics Commission right now that’s having any affect on anything.”

Caldwell’s three commission appointees, all retired judges, have been doing his bidding, Carlisle suggested. “We need somebody like Totto, someone with integrity, to be able to move forward.”

The mayor denied providing any agenda to his commission appointees, and noted that “a majority of the members were appointed by Peter.” Decisions that have been made about the commission’s leadership and staffing are being made jointly by Carlisle and Caldwell appointees, the incumbent said.

“There is a commission that is strong and independent,” Caldwell said. “To somehow imply that they are being told what to do is an insult, an insult to them.”

Djou, questioned by Huff, acknowledged he had no evidence that Caldwell had taken steps to stifle Totto or have him removed. However, he said, “ this a remarkable amount of coincidence.”

As for the luau referenced by Carlisle, Caldwell said that Totto ultimately concluded that there had been no wrongdoing.

The February 2013 luau was an inaugural celebration funded by Caldwell supporters through a transitional team consisting of influential corporations, labor unions and individuals. Attendees were also charged a minimum of $25 to attend the event at Moanalua Gardens.

An Ethics Commission opinion drafted by Totto said the transitional team should have filed gift reports, but otherwise committed no violations. The report, however, made it clear that such transitional teams should make donor lists public and take other steps to avoid “pay-for-play concerns.” Caldwell’s campaign did not disclose a list of donors until it was requested by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and other media.

The team collected $381,000 in private contributions — $145,000 of which was used to pay for the luau. (Leftover money was used to pay for other city administration expenses.)

Caldwell said similar transitional teams were set up by previous mayors in the same fashion.

As with four other previous mayoral forums or debates, a good portion of the Insights forum was devoted to the city’s controversial $8 billion rail project. For the first time, the candidates were pressed to say how they would fund operations and maintenance of the rail service.

All three said that, as with TheBus and HandiVan, they expect rail O&M to be subsidized largely by property taxes. Djou said he would not raise property tax rates to pay for operations but provided no details on other means it could be funded. Caldwell and Carlisle both said that they don’t think property tax rate hikes would be necessary, anticipating a dramatic increase in the home inventory and an upswing in property values.

To see the entire forum, go to

The last, live televised debate before the Aug. 13 primary is 7 p.m. tonight on KGMB co-sponsored by Hawaii News Now and the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

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    • As usual Djou cannot provide an ounce of evidence for his hollow charges. To his credit Charles can manufacture smears with the best of them. I would urge Carlisle to study the issues so he can give the appearance he knows what he is talking about.

      • OldDiver says: “As usual Djou cannot provide an ounce of evidence for his hollow charges. ”

        Please read the story above. The facts are not in dispute.

        -Totto was suspended without pay
        -He and the entire ethics office was forced all their work activities in six-minute blocks.
        -Caldwell Administration lawyer Donna Leong eliminated $6,000 in training for city employees
        -The commission restricted tried to silence Totto but rescinded that requirement amid public outcry.

        In order to believe that Kirk Caldwell didn’t play a role in gutting the Ethics Dept, you would have to believe that Mayor Caldwell doesn’t have any control over his own administration.

        • Nice summary Kalaheo. Why don’t you take it a step further and list facts of what has occurred regarding this rail debacle:

          1. NOT on time……NOT on budget.

          2. Will NOT help traffic and Caldwell says its an “option”.

          3. UNKNOWN Operational and Maintenance costs.

          4. Power source costs unknown.

          5. Contingency for project not sufficient as costs at present almost 3 times original estimate.

          6. PRP had to lie and apologize to the sheeple.

          7. Rail route does not go to UH.

          8. City Ethics Commission dismantled and dysfunctional at present/

          I’m sure with a little thought a listing approaching 3 “digits” could easily be assembled. The above are FACTS that immediately came to mind.

        • agree, djou is unprepared, just making false accusations and no real plan for the rail except parroting what cayetano and ponos are telling him. both are still trying to sabotage the rail project by recommending stupid solutions, which will cost the city millions if not billions to complete the rail project so it can be successful. the already have cause the project to increase over $1.5 billion because of their frivolous lawsuits and now what to cause more damage to the Honolulu taxpayers. their actions are only vindictive and malicious. djou should be rejected, he is nothing more than a stooge for antis, like cayetano was when he ran for mayor the last time.

        • The whole “documenting work activities in six-minute blocks” thing is total BS. The most detailed documentation I have heard of (in the private sector no less) is 10 or 15 minutes, and this is in an active billing scenario. The idea that a city & county dept would ask for more detailed documentation that exceeds private practice should clearly set off our shibai detectors that the request was punitive in nature, and not to manage efficiency.

      • True olddiver, djou campaigns on negativity or NO. Both Carlisle and Djou are card carrying Gops. In this state democrats rule. The Ethics Committee is not above the rules. Nothing more then blanks being shot by djou. Just another republican tactic that we see that produce NOthing.

        • Totto cleared Caldwell of both the luau and board of director issues. I wish Djou was pressed to provide proof of wrong doing otherwise he is being allowed to make false charges like his fellow republican Donald Trump.

        • Rite80 says:

          “Totto cleared Caldwell of both the luau and board of director issues.”

          That’s Kirk Caldwell’s interpretation. The story also says “An Ethics Commission opinion drafted by Totto said the transitional team should have filed gift reports, but otherwise committed no violations. The report, however, made it clear that such transitional teams should make donor lists public and take other steps to avoid “pay-for-play concerns.”

          ” I wish Djou was pressed to provide proof of wrong doing otherwise he is being allowed to make false charges like his fellow republican Donald Trump.”

          If your thinking about making false charges without proof, you must be thinking of the PRP which used millions in dark SuperPAC money from rail contractors and developers to get Kirk Caldwell elected last time.

          And for the record, Charles Djou has come strongly against Donald Trump and did so long before it was fashionable.

        • In reality, it really doesn’t matter who is elected mayor. Goofy Moofy and his main man Sidekick Sneaky Eyes Cadwell wanted to put the taxpayers in a pickle: get rail so far along that it wouldn’t make sense to stop it. The game is over folks and Moofy and Cadwell have won. Taxpayers are now squarely in a pickle. They can’t stop rail. Rail will be a billions dollar boondoggle choking the life out of taxpayers for decades to come and there’s not a single thing any of us can do about it. It will come down to Ben’s original thought about rail: not enough bang for the buck. The city’s ridership numbers are laughable – more than New York per capita – and anything short of UH makes no sense. We will pay and pay and pay and the city will short you on all other services. We are stuck. All the King’s horses and all the King’s men won’t be able to put Humpty Dumpty rail back again. The war is over and we the taxpayers have lost. Rail. You wanted it. You got it. Suckas.

      • As my roommate said, “Djou is another empty-shirt Punahou grad. ” He is very unimpressive. Any major has to work with very difficult situations on the ground. Conservative theory is fine for the classroom but any major has to perform on a daily basis.

        • Nice try allie but you are out of your league.

          As an Officer/Major, Djou has far more integrity, higher ethics, morals, real leadership qualities than Kirky Boy and Caldwell will ever have. None have any real world leadership experience. Career bureaucrats to the core.

          Kirky and Caldwell are two career bureaucrats/old men with failing mental faculties who need to retire. Both are out of touch with today’s world. They see taxpayers as an income source they can tax to fund their pet projects.

      • OldDiver, speaking of smears, should we revisit the last mayor’s election where kirk and PRP smeared Cayetano with lies?

        Lies that PRP later had to apologize for.

        Looks like kirk can dish it out but can’t take it.

      • Olddiver’s comments should be taken with a very small grain of salt. Remembering he still believes to this day, rail is “On time, On budget.”

        Notice OD didn’t provide any credible links to counter Djou’s comments. Hmmmmmm

      • @OldDiver: How is it hollow when almost the entire staff and the only investigator for the Ethics Commission no longer works there? Chuck Totto worked under 3 different Mayors with no problems until Caldwell came into office. If you want solid evidence, why is the Mayor allowed to abuse his vacation time in order to moonlight with Territorial Savings? Totto made the wrong call on that by saying that it was okay for the Mayor to do that. Now if he wasn’t paid a dime, it would probably be fine as long as there are no dealings between the City and Territorial Savings. Bottom line is Caldwell needs to be voted out of office. Too much corruption going on with the current administration. He must have taken good notes when he worked for Mufi. LOL!

  • “The last, live televised debate before the Sept. 13 primary .. ”

    It’s August 13th.

    $100 million for Rail O&M is going to be added to the C&C annual operating budget. They can say that property taxes won’t have to be raised, but if we didn’t have to spend the $100 million then they could either be lowered or the same $100 million could be used to fix more roads, repair more sewers and water mains, buy more buses, house more homeless, etc. Don’t make it sound like Rail O&M is free to the taxpayers. We’ve heard that song play before and it isn’t so sweet.

      • Yes, it comes from taxpayers like you and me except for the mayor who owns a “historical” home and pays a disproportionate amount less. He’s not worried about increases in the assessments or property tax rate.

        • Before Crybaby Kirky whines foul on this comment, he and wife, Donna Tanoue removed their residence from the historic list. So now pay their fair share of taxes. Not to worry, you Kirky supporters because he can use his Territorial director fees to pay.
          Dan Inouye surrendered his CPB directorship. Kirky should do the same. And now before August 13. I wish I were a Territorial millionaire customer so I could walk in there and ask nicely that they remove him.
          But they would probably have his wife serve out his term.

        • oops – removed themselves from the historical list AFTER that expose! Not on their own.

        • He probably had the house removed from the list because he would have been obligated to let anyone go examine the property and that would have let in all kinds of A) concerned citizens that don’t believe his lies, B) riff raff (AKA ordinary citizens), and C) homeless folks that wanted to camp out

        • Kirky Boy’s sweetheart deal as a 24 hour a year board member for $200k ($8,333.33 an hour) and his fake historical home for low taxes are a direct reflection on his total lack of leadership skills.

          Instead of putting the needs of others before his, he ensure he is taken care of first, crumbs for everyone else.

          He willfully fails to see the perception of corruption and ethical failure for the board of director’s job only because of his political position. Clearly the way he can’t work a budget for rail, he lacks any hint of professional financial skills.

          If he had any integrity he would either resign from the board or do it for free. Giving back all the ill gotten gains. But he doesn’t so…………..

  • I’ll consider voting for the candidate that publicly and clearly promises to not increase the property tax of homeowners to build, operate, and maintain rail.

    • Then there’s only one choice for you: DJOU. He’s the only one that has clearly, directly and unequivocally stated, as a fundamental premise for his entire campaign, that he would never, ever increase property tax to pay for this rail project. Kirk, on the other hand, has threatened multiple times, including in front of a State Legislature committee, that he would have to raise property tax if they didn’t extend the GET.

      I already voted Djou. It’s my money, my vote.

  • This is the future of our city? A Republican who will spend tons on money but “won’t raise taxes”; a Democrat so entrenched in power politics and political debts he is ready to make every last public space into a “public-private partnership” for private profit; another Democrat who’s at least honest but running headlong into the swamp. We are hopeless.

  • Caldwell and Carlisle have not given a detailed plan on how they plan to move from Middle Street to Ala Moana. Where exactly are they going to get their monies to do this?

  • Kirk Caldwell is a proven liar and cut the budget of the ethics commission before his minions ran Totto out of office. Of course he wanted him out. Just admit it and move on. Why keep lying?

    • His other LIE was when he stated that the King Street bike lane cost nothing because city employees were used. So those city workers took time off and volunteered their labor? Of course not. They still got paid by us.

  • Caldwell is well versed by his boss PRP. He is all for himself and nobody else. Voters do the right thing and make a major change next week Saturday.

  • The Spaghetti Western movie guild presents: The Good ,The Bad and The Ugly. Haaaaaaaaaaa!
    The (Not too) Good, played by “Captain Kirk Caldwell”.
    The Bad : played by “The Comedian Carlisle”.
    The Ugly: Played by “The Republican Loser” Charley Djou.
    These are your options Honolulu.Choose carefully.
    I’ll go out on a limb and predict ,based on insanity that “Captain Kirk will be the winner in the Honolulu Mayoral race.

  • “‘There is a commission that is strong and independent,” Caldwell said.” The ethics commission is NOT independent. That is a big part of the problem, and one that needs to be resolved.

  • The ethics sparring should have been about Mayor Caldwell’s sweetheart deal as a Territorial Savings Bank board member, for which he is paid $200,000 annually to attend twelve two-hour board meetings each year. That is $8,333 per hour. Considering HART’s financial crisis, Caldwell clearly was not hired as TSB board member for his financial genius, not at all. I believe he was hired for his political clout in helping TSB with its lucrative business relationships with C&C and state governments. Someone needs to do some investigating reporting and follow the money. Caldwell would have a serious conflict of interest if it is found that TSB does any business with the C&C as I suspect it does.

    • You know? I think you’re looking in the wrong direction when you “suspect” that TSB does business with the C&C. A more productive line of inquiry might involve TSB, its business interests with and loans to companies and organization that have contractual relationships with the C&C. An individual on the board of the bank may be in a position to influence loan approval and loan terms for businesses. If that were the case, I would consider it to be a possible conflict of interest and a possible ethical violation.

  • Shortly after the luau investigation came ORI Anuenue. In 2010 the city, under Ernie Martin (then acting director of the Department of Community Services) and Caldwell (then acting mayor), forgave a $1.2 million loan to ORI, and the EC was investigating to determine whether Martin and Caldwell used their positions for personal benefit.

    Corporation counsel did its own investigation and found no wrong doing. However, they would not release requested information to the EC, and the EC ultimately had to drop its investigation due to lack of resources.

    There’s a clear history of conflict with Caldwell’s administration and the EC. It may be that Caldwell hasn’t discussed ethics operations with his appointees, but he’s clearly had influence over their operations through his administration.

      • I think you misunderstood my post. I was referring to the ethics commissioners that Caldwell appointed when I wrote he may not have spoken to them. They are not city employees.

        • Caldwell’s appointees were judges? Then they know the law.

          Clearly Totto disagreed with their interpretation of the law on ethics.

          He probably should have apologised.

        • You’ve totally missed my point. Caldwell is basically saying he didn’t have anything to do with the problems at the ethics commission. I’m saying that he did, maybe not via his appointees, but through his own administration.

  • I think the candidates have very clearly defined themselves for me, and the way I see it is this.

    1) Peter Carlise – Nice guy, I’d have no problem going drinking with him, does an incredible job performing for an audience (he WAS a prosecutor, after all), has a sound ethical compass, I like his law and order background, but he’s a proven weak administrator who was accomplice to this rail disaster and while he’s honest about his role, he still played a role and I cannot trust him to be mayor again.

    2) Kirk Caldwell – A thin-skinned, creepy, corrupt snake oil salesman who has absolutely no moral/ethical compass and has lied his way through life, cutting deals and making promises he knew he couldn’t keep, attempting to bury whoever he had to in order to gain more influence (i.e., MONEY) has whose chickens are now coming home to roost. He is a HORRIBLE administrator who has no control over his departments and department heads and has lost the trust and confidence of just about everyone who he works with on a regular basis. The only people still cheering for him are the last remaining old boys with some skin in the game (read: money to skim) who want to squeeze a last few bucks out of Kirk’s incompetence before the game is over. He needs to be fired NOW.

    3) Charles Djou – An Ivy League prep school product whose biggest downfall was siding with the GOP in the bluest of blue states. He’s not some insane holy-rolling right-wing fringe lunatic but I still disagree with him on a large number of issues. The one thing I give the guy credit for is he ALWAYS tells you exactly what his positions are, even when those positions are at complete odds with the voting electorate and will come back to bite him in the rear. He often comes off as too polished and practiced, I haven’t seen any terribly compelling plans from him but at the same time, the reality is that nobody can really make concrete plans for the city because nobody knows what the hell is going on there because Kirk is running a fantasy shibai act and we need to fire him before we can ever know how bad of a hole we’re in. Do I always agree with Djou? Like him? Trust he’ll make a phenomenal mayor? NOPE. But at least I know where the geek stands on things and I can believe what comes out of his mouth. And a whole bunch of very respected minds and credible, influential leaders from across the political spectrum are coming out to create a broad coalition behind the guy.

    Bottom line: The only way we’re getting out of this rail mess is with a mayor that’s going to tell you the truth, work collaboratively with great minds and show you exactly what he’s doing every day and, for better or worse, that person is Djou.

    Let’s get rid of Kirk and get this done, folks. VOTE IN THE PRIMARY. It’s all of our money on the line.

    • Absolutely right on. I watched the debate and thought both Carlisle and Djou did well and came across very straight up. Carlisle in fact surprised me by being pretty frank
      and he called a spade a spade in terms of how Caldwell screwed things up when he became Mayor.
      Overall, though, I feel we need to change horses and that person for me would be Djou.

  • Caldwell and Carlisle both had their chances as mayor. And we are stuck with a bottomless money pit for funding the rail project. This election is all about the need to or waste of money to support rail. I’m going to give conservative Djou a shot at it since the other two have failed miserably. Vote Djou.

  • In this article, the city ethics office controversy is seeing to be mainly Toto’s disagreement with his governing boards.

    Caldwell is right when he says he had nothing to do with it.

    • It goes beyond disagreement between Chuck and the board. For example, the managing director removed $6,000 from the EC’s budget earlier this year. The funds were to provide mandated ethics training of city employees.

      Corporation counsel did not approve a less-than $700 expenditure for a piece of equipment that was to be used in an investigation. Corporation counsel also would not release requested information to the EC regarding an investigation related to the mayor (formerly acting mayor) and potential use of his position for personal benefit. There are other examples as well.

  • Kirk Caldwell is the guy you prayed you would never have to bunk with in the college dorm, because one night you’d go out partying, get way too hammered, then come home blackout drunk and pass out in your dorm bed. When you wake up in the morning, you’re facing the wrong way on the mattress and your okole is strangely sore.

    You sit there confused for a few minutes when you finally notice roommate Kirk, hiding behind his laptop screen playing Dungeons & Dragons and sneaking occasional cautious sideways glances your way.

    Finally, after ten minutes or so, Kirk saunters over to your bed, all red and bald and creepy, and asks if you’d like to go to the dorm cafeteria with him to get some strawberry milk.

    No thanks. I voted Djou this time. It’s my money and my okole.

  • Yep. I agree with Yotare. Don’t agree with Djou on everything but I agree with him on rail. My wife and I work to support our family, not rail. Rail will bankrupt the City if we are not careful. I don’t need advice from a weasel making $400,000 a year telling me to pay more. I know he can. We cannot. I really hope Djou takes it on the first ballot; 50%+1.

  • “Caldwell and Carlisle both said that they don’t think property tax rate hikes would be necessary, anticipating a dramatic increase in the home inventory and an upswing in property values.” The irony, to pay for rail we will increase homelessness. More houses and property values still go up…ah, but rail will be paid for. What a relief!

  • Caldwell’s board compensation of $200,000 per year is pretty much on par of what Fortune 500 board of directors are paid. So, the obvious question is, why is he being paid that amount of money to sit on the board of Territorial Savings, a publicly traded company?

    Ioho, being a Mayor of a city and at the same time being on the board of directors of any publicly traded company, which also happens to conduct its primary business in that same city, would give the appearance of impropriety.

    Generally speaking, there are laws which could subject any board member of a publicly traded company to criminal penalties, if convicted of fraudulent activities.

    Having said that, it would seem unlikely that a board member would knowingly engage in activities that could result in any unlawful or unethical conduct that could result in damage not only the publicly traded company, but the reputation of all members of the board of directors.

    Nonetheless, given the projected growth of construction, rail, etc., Caldwell will likely be held under a microscope as a board member of a publicly traded company.

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