Wednesday, April 08, 2009
Office of Information Procrastination
by Larry Geller
I need to start by saying that the Office of Information Practices has been a help to me on many occasions. They have been tenacious in reminding reluctant boards and commissions that they have a duty to conduct their meetings openly in full view of the public. They have sprung loose minutes of illegal secret meetings and held public officials accountable. OIP has educated both new and experienced board appointees on how to conduct their public business in public. They conducted a seminar for a council I sit on that was helpful to us in understanding how we can correctly carry out our responsibilities.
You’re waiting for the “but” that always follows a paragraph like that. Here it comes.
But this time they have dragged their heels beyond all understanding. I’m still waiting for the minutes of what I believe was an illegal 2 hour 12 minute meeting of the Procurement Policy Board held on October 5, 2006. Yes, 2006. That was before Obama, before the recession. Britney Spears was pregnant with her second baby, if that helps you get oriented to the times. Pluto was still a planet back then.
Why was that meeting important? The PPB has failed to give notice of executive sessions before, and has taken testimony and decided matters without a quorum, just like other boards do. On this day before Passover, I ask, Why was that illegal meeting different from other illegal meetings? And I answer:
Because after their 2 hours and 12 minutes huddled together in secret, they came out and immediately decided that the public access television providers should be subject to the state’s procurement laws.
That could very well destroy Olelo, Akaku and the other providers. Imagine that a religious broadcaster, for example, really wanted those public access channels. Any big, deep-pocketed organization can produce a winning bid if they are willing to invest tons of money in it. Those cable channels are almost priceless.
Or suppose Fox News creates a non-profit to win the bid. They could do it. Clearly, for either scenario or others we could think of, public access television as we know it would be co-opted by special interests.
So I really want to know what they talked about in there.
So I asked for the minutes, and was turned down.
So I asked OIP to review the minutes and see if I am entitled to a copy.
That was on December 13, 2006. I’m still waiting.
Every few months I email to check on their progress. At one point, the attorney assigned to the case left, and after my query, a new attorney was assigned.
On April 23, 2008, almost a year ago, I got this email:
The Attorney General's Office has recently sent over records for our review. Consequently, I believe that we will be able to issue our opinions in the above-referenced matters in the upcoming weeks.
Thank you for your patience.
The upcoming weeks passed into history. So I thought I’d like a peek at whatever the AG sent over, in case those records might be public records. So I sent a request for public records—to the OIP itself, on March 27, 2009. I’ll bet that doesn’t happen very often.
Today I got a reply. No, I don’t get the records. It seems that the records were requested by OIP for in camera review. From their reply, it seems that those records may be the ones I have been looking for since 2006.
So they have them. We cannot blame the delay on the PPB. No, OIP has them and has been sitting on them for about a year.
Meanwhile, the issue of whether the public access providers should be subject to procurement law reverberates around the legislature and the courts.
At this late date, there is little recourse, most likely, to legal action even if the meeting and the PPB decision were, in fact, illegal.
There is a suspicion that the decision to displace the current providers was instigated or supported by the state administration. The OIP director is a governor’s appointee. I imply nothing, only ask why, when most issues pass through OIP in a reasonable time, has this one taken more than two years so far, and remains unresolved?