The Maui ethics board is advising county employees and elected officials to not accept gifts or tickets from college basketball tournament officials, warning that they could be seen as efforts to influence or reward them in the performance of their official duties.
The Maui County Board of Ethics approved the advisory opinion Wednesday ahead of the Maui Jim Maui Invitational basketball tournament scheduled for late November, The Maui News reported .
Tournament officials for years have given tickets and gifts such as shirts and hats, to county department heads, the mayor and council members. The tickets have been valued in the thousands of dollars.
In general, the gifts have been noted in the county officials' financial disclosure forms, which the ethics panel reviews.
Offering tickets and "tokens of appreciation" to supporters and stakeholders, including elected officials, has been a tradition, said KemperLesnik, a sports marketing and public relations agency that manages the tournament. The agency noted the practice is common with events across the country.
"At no time were these offers aimed to influence or reward any elected official," tournament director David Gough said in a letter to the ethics board. He added that it is up to the officials to determine "whether they are able to accept our invitation and how to report it."
The ethics board has questioned the gifts for years and sent a cautionary letter to council members in July 2016, prompting some to stop accepting the gifts. Some officials continued accepting the gifts, resulting in the new advisory opinion.
The opinion is not a command or order, said Deputy Corporation Counsel Gary Murai, who advises the ethics board. The board can file complaints and refer the matter to prosecutors if warranted.
The board has not yet found any ethics violations regarding the tournament gifts.