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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, March 7, 2010

Only Tam would see family as meal ticket

By Lee Cataluna

He took his wife out to dinner on Valentine's Day and got the city to pay for it.

Sometimes writing about Rod Tam feels like shooting fish in a barrel, yet the man keeps piling up the fish and handing out the guns. And, amazingly, he keeps running for public office and keeps getting elected.

That incredible winning streak might come to an end now that he's aiming for higher office and is facing other candidates who haven't billed taxpayers for every meal they've eaten for the past four years.

The 18-page document summarizing the Ethics Commission investigation into Rod Tam's bento-gate is the sort of thing you print up and pass around the office for comic relief:

He doesn't like to meet with people in his office because there are allergens in Honolulu Hale that bother his sinuses.

He took his brother and sister out to dinner, called them "constituents" and sent bills for $400 for city reimbursement.

He took his family to dinner at the Empress restaurant and claimed it was a "crime in Chinatown meeting."

On that Valentine's Day dinner, he claimed was meeting with two state employees to discuss how the economy affects Hawai'i's public education.

And not only did he say he was on city business when clearly he was feeding his family, he overcharged for the reimbursements. Ethics Commission investigators caught him when they went back to the restaurants and matched up the credit card slips Tam submitted with restaurant copies of the same bills. Ho! Busted!

Tam received repayments for hundreds of meals because he said they were related to council business. He justified the claims by saying the mealtime discussion was about "Hawai'i's economy," "economic development" or the "city's economy," which is what the rest of us talk about these days at all the meals we pay for ourselves.

It may be tempting to shrug it off with, "Yeah, well, I'll bet they all do it." But they don't. In the Ethics Commission report, it says by comparison, a few of the other council members have used their discretionary funds for the occasional staff lunch or as per diem when they're traveling on council business. Some council members haven't submitted meal reimbursements at all.

The whole thing is so classically Rod Tam. When other politicians are running up tabs on the taxpayers' backs, they're doing crazy stuff like ordering room-service lobster dinners and pay-per-view dirty movies or flying to Argentina pretending it's an international trade mission. Not Tam. He takes his wife to dinner at a low-end Japanese restaurant. That doesn't make it less wrong, but it does make it more Rod Tam.