Saturday, July 04, 2009
Sunshine comes to Maui, Kauai county governments
by Larry Geller
Should the public documents of Hawaii’s county governments be available to the public? Sounds like a no-brainer, but that’s if you’re a member of the public.
County officials may see it differently. State sunshine laws (open meeting laws and open records laws) don’t apply to the state legislature, which has basically exempted itself, yet these laws apply at the county level. Unfair? Well, the law is the law. I have viewed video tapes of county council meetings at which members debate whether one document or another should be kept from the public without ever referencing the law or what it dictates.
I don’t know if they resent having to follow a law that their big brothers and sisters at the State Capitol are not subject to, but I do find it encouraging when openness and disclosure do prevail at the county level in Hawaii.
This week sunshine has broken through a bit on both Maui and Kauai.
There are organizations called Charter Commissions that work at revising County Charters. I guess the parallel would be constitutional conventions at the state level. Local government very directly and profoundly impacts people on each island and occupies the time of a handful of bloggers and a few reporters.
Reporters can usually get hold of official papers, but what about the public?
Charter Commission documents are important as references to support the intent of a charter provision when a commission is reviewing potential changes, or in litigation. Not only for those working directly on potential revisions but for the public which is generally much less informed (if not totally excluded) from the process, access to documents is critical. I’m told that sometimes these documents become inexplicably hard to find just when they are needed. Strange… makes one wonder…. Anyway, there is good news ahead.
All documents related to the creation and amending of the Maui County Charter since 1963 have been digitized and archived online in a project commissioned by The North Beach West Maui Benefit Fund. More than 360 documents are available on-line, where they can’t very well hide when needed, at mauicharterarchive.org.
According to his news release, attorney and Ph.D. candidate Lance D. Collins was the principal investigator of the project, and was assisted by staffs of the County Clerk's office and the Corporation Counsel's office.
Really, this is a great achievement and qualifies as Disappeared News until the commercial media get around to recognizing the value of this project.
The Garden Island concluded yesterday that
Transparency appears to be coming to Kaua‘i, one minute at a time. [The Garden Island, Council minutes posted online, 7/3/2009]
Yes, the Kauai County Council website will finally include minutes of council meetings and more openness is under discussion:
Kaua‘i County Council Chair Kaipo Asing and Vice Chair Jay Furfaro announced in a Thursday press release that after more than a year of planning, the council’s Web site will include meeting minutes and memoranda of actions taken at council meetings, also called “recap memos.”
The placement of public documents, including meeting minutes, on the county’s Web site is one of four matters to be addressed at an upcoming council meeting after a communication introduced by Lani Kawahara and Tim Bynum was approved by all seven council members last month.
The communication requested agenda time at either the July 8 or July 22 meeting to discuss council members’ access to the agenda, equitable and timely circulation of council service documents, general access to information by the public and council members, and putting documents online.
C’mon, folks, you can do it. I do hope that public pressure will encourage the completion of this project.
Speaking of big brothers and sisters in Honolulu, our state legislature has developed a paperless system that at the same time makes all documents, including testimony, available and searchable by the general public.
House committee chairs now have to work real hard to keep their secret amendments from escaping public attention, and this session has seen fewer of them. The caper now stands out like a sore thumb. When the Capitol website indicates (often at 4:30 p.m. on a Friday) that an amendment can only be picked up at the chair’s office, it is obvious that something’s up. So the website has brought about an increase in accountability as well as openness.
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