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Board of Ethics member Sara Gadarian called Wednesday for the panel to investigate gifts to county elected and appointed officials for swag and tickets to the Maui Jim Maui Invitational college basketball tournament. • The Maui News / MELISSA TANJI photo

WAILUKU – The Maui County Board of Ethics is looking into swag and tickets, valued at thousands of dollars, given by Maui Jim Maui Invitational college basketball tournament officials to county elected and appointed officials.

Board of Ethics member Sara Gadarian has seen these gifts listed on financial disclosure reports filed with the board by elected officials, including Mayor Alan Arakawa, and appointed county officials. The event held around Thanksgiving at the county Lahaina Civic Center attracts some of the nation’s top collegiate basketball teams and is one of the biggest sporting events on the island.

While the board has found no violations with the gifts to date, Gadarian called for an investigation into the reasons behind the gifts that include a swag bag and difficult-to-obtain tickets.

Could the gifts be a “reward for behavior?” she asked at Wednesday’s board meeting.

“What generates this generosity?”she asked.

The board has sent cautionary letters to those who have declared the gifts on their disclosure statements, and the panel has sent a resolution to the Maui County Council calling for a limit on such gifts, Gadarian said. No action has been taken as yet on the resolution.

On Wednesday, the board discussed the gifts and tickets and informally agreed to have the matter placed on a future meeting agenda for action. The board could call a hearing on a proposed advisory opinion, where those who accepted the gifts could be questioned, said Deputy Corporation Counsel Gary Murai.

The Maui Jim Maui Invitational is managed by KemperLesnik, a sports marketing, events and public relations agency.

“The tournament has traditionally offered tickets and tokens of appreciation to many stakeholders and supporters, including elected officials in Maui County,” an email statement from KemperLesnik said Wednesday. “This is a common practice with events throughout the country.”

Bill Haywood, the operations manager for Maui Jim, the title sponsor for the tournament, told the board Wednesday that his company has never given tickets to government or elected officials.

Several County Council members noted receiving gifts from the tournament in 2017 in recently filed financial disclosure forms. The value of gifts are a “best estimate” by the filer.

A government official could have received gifts from the tournament but would not have to disclose them if donated to a nonprofit within 30 days of receiving the gift, Murai said.

In a 2018 disclosure form, Council Member Stacy Crivello reported receiving 12 tickets to the tournament on Nov. 13. Her filing earlier this year disclosed the highest total of gifts by council members from the tournament at an estimated $2,238.

The next highest totals were by Council Member Don Guzman, who reported $726 in tickets and $60 for a tournament gift bag; and Council Member Elle Cochran, who reported $100 worth of gifts in a swag bag.

Not all council members have filed their financial disclosure forms for the year because filing dates vary.

Crivello said Wednesday afternoon that she has never attended a game and instead gives the tickets away to others, including high school basketball players on Molokai.

“For me, it’s the youth that can take advantage of that experience with college (basketball),” she said.

Crivello said she isn’t influenced by the gifts. The council reviews and acts on the county budget item for the tournament’s $5,000 rental fee and related expenses.

The tournament “does more good for the community and the island”and exposes county youth to college basketball, she said. “Can you imagine how much revenue it generates?”

Guzman could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.

Since receiving the cautionary letter from the board in 2016, Cochran said she began thinking twice about accepting tournament tickets. She has not accepted tickets since 2015.

The cautionary letter dated July 11, 2016, said that based on the reported value of the tickets, should “KemperLesnik or anyone else offer you gifts of similar value in the future, the Board of Ethics urges you to consider whether it can be reasonably inferred that the gift is intended to influence or reward you.

“Should you conclude in the affirmative, the Board of Ethics recommends that you decline acceptance of the gift.”

The letter also notes that the County Charter says that no county officer or employee may solicit, accept or receive any gift where it can be reasonably inferred that the gift is intended to influence the official or is a reward for action.

The board said that the letter was not based on a complaint and does not allege ethical wrongdoing by any county officer or an attempt by KemperLesnik to influence an elected official.

Arakawa has reported receiving tickets worth $4,000 in the past but logged no gifts in his latest disclosure. The mayor currently is declining tournament gifts, said Maui County Communications Director Rod Antone.

Arakawa feels the benefit is “the tournament itself and what it does as far as exposure and driving sports fans to Maui in November,”Antone said.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

Board of Ethics member Sara Gadarian called Wednesday for the panel to investigate gifts to county elected and appointed officials for swag and tickets to the Maui Jim Maui Invitational college basketball tournament.