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Hawaii County ethics board rules against former Mayor Harry Kim in Thirty Meter Telescope case

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                                Mayor Harry Kim


    Mayor Harry Kim

The Hawaii County Board of Ethics on Wednesday found former Mayor Harry Kim guilty of violating the county’s ethics code when he didn’t enforce the law evenly during the 2019 Thirty Meter Telescope protests.

The unanimous decision by the board also came with another action — a 4-0 vote with one abstention to send a letter to the state Ethics Commission describing the opinion and suggesting the state also has responsibility for law enforcement on Mauna Kea.

A petition filed last year by residents Lisa Malakaua and Mike Nathaniel accused the mayor of violating the ethics code when, among other things, he failed to clear the five-plus-month blockade of Mauna Kea Access Road and didn’t enforce conservation laws violated by the protest camp near the road.

The petition argued that the county should have used its authority to enforce laws that prohibit camping on conservation lands and prevent the illegal blocking of a public road.

Kim told the ethics board last month that Mauna Kea was a state issue and that the county’s only involvement came after Gov. David Ige pulled out of Mauna Kea and left responsibility for access to the mountain with the county government.

Thayne Currie, a pro-TMT astronomer who helped with the petition, said Wednesday that while there are no consequences for Kim now that he’s out of office, the board’s ruling should help guide the actions of the current mayor, Mitch Roth, if the protest starts up again.

The road was blocked for most of the last half of 2019 by a largely Native Hawaiian group trying to prevent the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope near the summit of Mauna Kea. The camp along Saddle Road, also known as Daniel K. Inouye Highway, has been removed for the most part.

TMT officials say construction of the $2.4 billion cutting-edge telescope won’t start before spring, and it could be even later if more regulatory hurdles come with an influx of federal financing the nonprofit’s board is seeking.

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