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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, July 7, 2003

State ethics enforcer remains undaunted

By Mary Kaye Ritz
Advertiser Religion & Ethics Writer

When Dan Mollway opened the door to his office at 8 a.m. last Monday, there were gift disclosures to file, a memo to write on freebie tickets and a deposition to take in the case of a state employee suspected of using public resources for private business. It's the last day of the 2002 fiscal year, and he's under a press microscope.

Dan Mollway has been executive director and general counsel for the state Ethics Commission since 1986.

Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser

It's all in a day's work at the state Ethics Commission, which enforces upright behavior for the state's public employees.

An ethics question arose the very day of our interview, proving that in Hawai'i, ethics and aloha can be hard to separate.

A friend sent Mollway a pizza.

"Unprecedented," he said sheepishly.

At first the deliveryman said it was an anonymous gift, which ethics commission staff are not allowed to accept. But Mollway suspected and later confirmed that it came from a friend who had taken pity on him, stuck inside all day. That meant it was OK to eat.

Not even a pepperoni gets past him.

The executive director oversees a 10-person office that enforces the state ethics law for nearly 70,000 people on the state payroll. Mollway and four lawyers field about 2,000 calls a year from all quarters — from professors at the University of Hawai'i to staffers from the state Department of Health, to public school teachers. Some are questions concerning legislators' behavior.

Dan Mollway

Job: Executive director and general counsel for the state Ethics Commission since 1986. Before that, he was associate director.

Age: 56

Family: He's the son of two Associated Press staffers: his father was a teletypist, his mother handled photos. He married Susan Oki, a fellow English grad student at the University of Hawai'i, 30 years ago yesterday. She's now U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Mollway. They have a son, Dylan, 12, who plays the viola, violin and piano and attends Punahou.

Education: He has a bachelor's from University of Illinois-Urbana; his master's in British and American literature is from UH. He completed law training at Boston College in 1981.

Bet you didn't know: In his junior year in college, he was the long-haired bass player for a rock group, Eerie Canal.

Guilty pleasure: None, really. It's a 24/7 job. However, to unwind with his son, he'll watch kid shows like "Even Steven" and "That's So Raven," unless "Cops," a favorite of both, is on.

Most fun he's had in years: Flying on a trapeze during a vacation in Canada. (He was a gymnast in high school.)

It has been a frustrating year for Mollway, a 21-year veteran of the ethics commission, because the Legislature failed to beef up the ethics law. He says the existing law is "a good one — but it could be better." Mollway spoke before the Legislature about 45 times this year to push for new measures or fend off attempts to weaken existing ones.

He said the ethics code could use some tweaking:

• Making people recuse themselves from decisions that may pose conflicts of interest. Now, it's a conflict if a spouse or dependent child is involved. Mollway would like to see the list extended to grown children, siblings, parents and members of the household.

• Requiring state officials to report gifts worth more than $100. The threshold now is $200.

(On deadline day, a flurry of state employee gift disclosure forms rolled in at the front window and fax machine. A few days before, Gov. Linda Lingle reported receiving more than $4,000 in gifts: about $300 in comps for two rooms at the Hyatt Regency Kauai and 500 copies of "Path of the Pearl," by author Mary Olsen Kelly.)

• Requiring state officials to report financial interests in businesses and property outside Hawai'i.

All these proposals failed to make it out of committee.

Ethics enforcement is hardly glamorous. As a crusader, Mollway's delivery is more Ben Stein than Billy Graham. His corner office may overlook Tamarind Park, but it's packed with document boxes, and the shades remain closed. (He gets migraines.)

The spongy covering on his headset has long since worn off, and the IBM mouse, perched on a "Starry Night" mousepad, certainly looks worse for the wear. A screensaver of Murphy's Law scrolls across his computer: "If it looks easy, it's difficult. If it looks hard, it's impossible."

Mollway starts his day at 5 a.m., reading the papers with a cup of full-leaded Joe (the second one he'll nurse long after its temperature has fallen to air-conditioned level). He reads the local papers thoroughly "to make sure I'm not in there without my knowing it," he deadpans.

By a twist of legislative fate, Mollway hasn't had a raise in years. His own associate director makes nearly $10,000 a year more than he does. But Mollway is too stubborn to go away, even though he's heard part of the reason his raises have stalled is because someone (probably in the Legislature) is hoping he'll get frustrated and quit.

It's been more than a decade.

"The more they refuse to raise it, the longer I'm going to stay," he said, only half joking.

"It's really a gross injustice, but it reflects one of the problems we all face," said Honolulu ethics director Chuck Totto, "The people who hold the purse strings are also some of the most important people we need to advise or enforce the law against."

Nevertheless, Totto said, Mollway is well known as a resource on ethical behavior far beyond Hawai'i. "He's a leading expert in the nation," Totto said. "He's very highly respected. You can get a slew of good ideas from him."