A Primer On Local Pols Behind Bars

Larry Price
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Wednesday - August 24, 2011
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My initial reaction when I saw former City Councilman Rod Tam’s picture in the StarAdvertiser last week was one of disbelief. Tam has been in public service more than 30 years, and will be sentenced in November for his campaign spending violations, which include overcharging the City Council for personal meals and misuse of campaign funds.

I don’t know him, but he is obviously an intelligent man who is well-liked by voters in his district. He faces sentencing on 13 petty misdemeanor charges and 21 misdemeanor charges. He pleaded guilty to all the charges and could spend a lot of time in jail.

Will he go to jail? There’s a hint in our political history.

While I feel sorry for Tam, I remember feeling sorry for former City Councilwoman Rene Mansho, who was convicted of misusing campaign funds. She believed her “no” vote on a tax increase to finance a rail transit system formed the hard core of her detractors who petitioned for her recall and later sought her impeachment. For some reason, promoting events like Boat Days and using campaign funds rubbed people the wrong way. She was sentenced to one year in jail and five years’ probation. Even more serious, former Honolulu City Councilman Andy Mirikitani was given a four-year, threemonth prison sentence for receiving $6,884 in kickbacks from city employees.

In each of these cases a central theme surfaced. A lot of people feel that jail time is too serious for these kinds of crimes because these disgraced politicians are only doing what all politicians do. But councilmembers in office at the time generally agreed that justice had been done and that public servants must be above reproach. It’s interesting to note that in all of these cases, the judges were swamped with letters of a history of good works in the community, and none of the judges in these cases seemed moved by the stories.

It’s also interesting that these cases involved elected members of the Honolulu City Council. Is it because there is more opportunity to identify potential donors who ask for contracts with the city and reward councilmembers with campaign contributions?

We are now in a time warp, with bidders suing each other and the City and County over the awarding of lucrative rail contracts. It could be this system of ours is not working that well.

So will Tam be sentenced to a jail term after the judge disregards all the letters of support from his former constituents? If history is any kind of teacher, the answer if yes, jail time with restitution.

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