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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, March 18, 2010

Honolulu councilman Rod Tam votes to censure himself

By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

City Councilman Rod Tam, left, listens to testimony at a hearing to censure him for improperly spending city money on private meals.

DEBORAH BOOKER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Honolulu City Councilman Rod Tam's future in city politics is likely over, following his second City Council censure in three years.

Even Tam voted to censure himself as the resolution passed 9-0 yesterday. The action was prompted by a city Ethics Commission report that Tam improperly used his council discretionary fund to reimburse himself for private meals he claimed were connected to council business.

While the council censured Tam, a majority of council members rejected taking it a step further and calling for Tam's resignation. Term limits prevent Tam from running for re-election.

Tam plans to run for mayor if Mayor Mufi Hannemann steps down to run for governor. But Tam never had a chance of winning the mayor's race, said Dan Boylan, a political commentator and professor at the University of Hawai'i-West O'ahu.

"Everyone smiled when he announced he was running for mayor," Boylan said. "This is a fellow who called for naps in the afternoon and wanted to institute the siesta. Rod has done his best to make a joke out of himself. And when he's caught using city funds for his own purposes, he says council members shouldn't have a fund that they can use improperly. It's absurd. He's not going to be mayor, of course."

Tam, a former state legislator, could run for the House or Senate but would likely face an incumbent , Boylan said.

The Ethics Commission staff said it found at least $10,000 in questionable contingency account reimbursements to Tam from fiscal years 2006 through 2009.

Tam agreed to pay $13,700 to settle the commission's claims, although he maintained that he did nothing wrong beyond making several "math errors."

Yesterday Tam pledged to fix his accounting methods before turning in future expenditure reports. And he issued another apology.

"I would like to again apologize to my constituents and the public for the uneasiness that these errors have caused the community," he told the council in a statement. "I will not go into the details to defend myself ... " Later, Tam told reporters that the "anonymous allegation" against him that went to the Ethics Commission was politically motivated.

"People have told me it wouldn't have come about if I wasn't a candidate," he said.

Tam voted for his own censure, he said, "so the council can move on with its business."


In June 2008, the City Council unanimously censured Tam for using the word "wetback," an ethnic slur referring to undocumented laborers.

Asked about his latest censure yesterday, Tam referred to his 2008 censure.

"The censure last time was for using an old terminology of 'wetbacks,' which has been outdated since the 1900s," he said. "It changed from wetbacks to illegal aliens now to undocumented workers because of the sensitivity from the Mainland. Now that people have come from the Mainland here, it gets to be sensitive, too."

In 2004, the Ethics Commission found that Tam violated ethics laws by appearing on behalf of private interests, including one that paid him $3,100, to get permits from the city Department of Planning and Permitting.

At the time, Tam maintained that he did nothing wrong but would comply with the commission's decision.

"The problem isn't political. The problem isn't the contingency fund. The problem is Rod Tam. Rod Tam has no one to blame but himself for this," said Councilman Charles Djou.


Tam supporter Lionel Wright, a Hawaiian homesteader from Papakōlea, yesterday presented the council with 300 signatures of support that he had gathered in one day.

"Every person in this room has made mistakes," he said in testifying on Tam's behalf.

Wright's mother, Emma, said Tam has shown commitment to his constituents and shows respect for communities such as Papakōlea.

"He's always been up front and straight. ... He did something that wasn't right," Emma Wright told the council. "He's willing to make amends."

But Gerald Martens of Pauoa called Tam's actions "unethical" and "reprehensible."

Tam "violated the public's trust," Martens said.