Head of Honolulu Ethics Commission resigns after 16 years

Charles Totto


After more than 16 years, the head of the Honolulu Ethics Commission has resigned.

Charles Totto announced Wednesday he is stepping down as executive director and legal counsel, effective immediately. It’s a position he has held since April 2000.

“I think my effectiveness is at an end here,” he told KHON2. “In terms of that effectiveness, there are decisions that have been made that put some of our complaint cases in limbo, decisions that have been made that make it more difficult for us to bring charges against subjects of a complaint. There have always been difficulties with the  administration in terms of getting sufficient funding and resources to do the work we need to do.”

Totto’s relationship with the city administration was contentious from the beginning with questions about funding by lobbyists for the mayor’s inaugural luau. No ethics violation was found.

The rift was furthered with disagreements on the commission’s budget, as well as the validity of city council votes and the mayor’s support of the rail project in view of contributions to their political campaigns by rail interests.

Soon after, Totto was placed on a one-month leave after an investigation into management procedures.

Last month, Always Investigating reported that Totto had been hit with a major restriction upon his return: he could no longer hire key staff without oversight from the board.

At Wednesday’s commission meeting, supporters rallied behind Totto.

“The investigator that did the investigation late last year, early this year, was in my opinion not independent, because she gave a donation to Mayor Caldwell,” said Natalie Iwasa, who testified before the commission. “The way it was handled, I feel, was unfair to Chuck.”

For a while, Totto was banned from speaking to the media about commission activities.

“This has been very exhausting for me physically and emotionally. I don’t know that there’s much more productive I can do for the people of Honolulu right now in this job,” Totto said. “I do believe that there’s been a lot of micromanagement and it’s been difficult, perhaps on the commission’s side it’s difficult,  because they don’t quite understand what we do. I feel that unfortunately there isn’t a lot of trust flowing either way.”

“We thank Chuck for all his years of dedicated public service and his stalwart efforts to educate the employees of the City and County of Honolulu about ethics. He brought a passion and unwavering dedication to the Ethics Commission. His contributions will reverberate for years to come. We wish him and his family well,” said Ethics Commission chair Victoria Marks.

Totto leaves with almost 30 years of public service. He previously worked as the State Utilities Consumer Advocate and as an attorney in the State Office of Consumer Protection.

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