Tuesday, June 01, 2010


Watch California Watch—they even reported on Hawaii’s “poor commitment to open government”

by Larry Geller

Forget Peer News. Watch California Watch (and other new sites that feature open news coverage and public service). Actually, I’d like to invite Peer News (CivilBeat) to be more open and become the news source for everyone in Hawaii. 

I was checking into the progress of this investigative reporting venture and discovered their Price of Peril report. Sounds a bit like “Price of Paradise,” so I clicked. It turns out that they have a report on how states, including Hawaii, have spent their Homeland Security grant money, and how much trouble they got trying to get information from our state government. More on that below.

The latest from California Watch is a press release posted on Romenesko and tweeted by the Poynter Institute: California Watch hires Pulitzer winner, finalist:<br>California Watch Continues to Build Its Reporting Team (6/1/2010).

The Center for Investigative Reporting's California Watch announced new additions to its reporting team today. Three new staff members, including a Pulitzer Prize winner, will help strengthen and expand the largest investigative reporting team operating in the State. New reporting beats will include the environment and public safety. California Watch will add an enterprise reporter focused on public health issues and a third education reporter to its team.

California Watch has been around for awhile. Their “About” page has more information on their mission and how they have distributed their work. Here’s a snip:

In the summer of 2009, the independent, nonpartisan Center for Investigative Reporting launched a new reporting initiative called California Watch, the largest group of journalists dedicated to investigative reporting in the state.

The team at California Watch pursues in-depth, high-impact reporting on issues such as education, public safety, health care and the environment. Our reporters also produce stories that hold those in power accountable, while tracking government waste and the misspending of taxpayer resources.

We place a major emphasis on solution-oriented reporting intended to have an impact on the quality of life for Californians and our communities.

We plan to engage the public by building and creating interactive tools that make it easier to connect with leaders and decision makers about key issues. And we offer searchable databases through our Data Center and other resources, links and guides that enable anyone to do their own basic watchdog reporting.

Their Price of Peril investigation does have a Hawaii page. Please read the report in its entirety. Here’s a snip from the part about their difficulties obtaining information from our state government:

Our effort to obtain records from Hawaii – notorious for its poor commitment to open government – showing how the state has used its homeland security grants since 2001 failed. In fact, Hawaii during this project became one of the worst of the 50 states and Washington, D.C. in making such documents available.

More than a year after we sent a formal request under Hawaii’s Uniform Information Practices Act, the state finally provided an anemic spreadsheet that listed grant expenditures between 1999 and 2006 by general category, e.g. “law enforcement” and “hazardous materials,” but it does little to show how the money was actually used. It’s nonetheless available for download below.

A grant manager from the Hawaii State Civil Defense office first asked several questions about why we were requesting the information and then said the office needed time to determine how best to provide us with the data. But follow-up calls and e-mails led to disappointment.

The same article mentions a grant that may be the source of funds for the cameras to be installed in Honolulu’s buses:

Hawaii, a leading grant recipient per capita, received nearly $5 million in 2008, or twice what it did the year before, from just one infrastructure protection grant that it planned to spend on better defense measures for buses and security improvements at the state’s harbors and ports, according to the Star-Bulletin.

A 2009 state audit found that Hawaii’s Department of Public Safety violated local and federal guidelines by not recording or entering into an inventory system $334,000 worth of equipment bought with grants. Auditors warned that the failure could jeopardize future funding.

The site provides references to the audit report and downloadable documents.

Good job, California Watch. Wish you were here.


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