Thursday, September 15, 2011


Hawaii takes step backwards with secret meetings, secret laws

If a governor proclaims something in the forest and nobody hears, is it really proclaimed?

by Larry Geller

Check out this agenda and see if you can figure out what the commission that posted it is planning to discuss next Tuesday:


Heck, under “General Business” they could talk about anything.

My intention is not to single out this commission, because there are other examples. I did write to OIP and to the chair of the commission today. It looks easily solvable—a better agenda. Looking at their previous minutes, they do significant work, but it’s all obscured from pubic view. This commission also has an exemption from the procurement law that means that pubic scrutiny is very much in order.

So what will happen? They could post an amended agenda. But the meeting is Tuesday, so the notice would not be the required six days in advance of the meeting.

Perhaps OIP will advise.

Contrast the above agenda with this one for an Ethics Commission for the following day. It’s detailed, and even warns that several of the topics may need to be switched into executive session. If you have an interest in any of the discussion items, you know to come on over.

Some Hawaii boards and commissions do better than others with regard to their commitment to the Sunshine Law. There’s no mandatory education, and without a briefing or without some research, board members are simply unaware. Yet they are allowed to carry on without giving the public notice, or without meaningful agendas (both are really the same thing). The result is that the public is often blindsided. The law could and should be improved.

Secret laws in Hawaii?

The Abercrombie administration has not put any emphasis on transparency, so an administration bill to strengthen the sunshine law is unlikely to be introduced. Worse, the administration has managed to obscure its actions in defiance of common principles of openness.

Although the most prominent issue has been the Governor’s refusal to release the list of names given to him by the Judicial Selection Committee and the Star-Advertiser’s lawsuit seeking that list, there are other indications that openness is not high on the gov’s list. (See: Abercrombie Never Promised Transparency (Civil Beat, 4/6/2011) and

More than 160 commissions and boards hold meetings throughout the year – meetings that the public should know about because what transpires could have significant impact on their communities. From a proposed 12,000-home master-planned development in east Kapolei to food safety requirements that could affect on local farmers, these public forums provide a way for citizens to make their opinions known.

It’s democracy at work — but only if the public knows about the meetings.

[Civil Beat, Off The Beat: Hawaii's 'Dark Age' of Information, 9/13/2011]

This last article notes that Abercrombie has failed to renew the requirement that these meetings be posted on the government website, and that some boards now do post and some don’t.

The most recent is his failure to proclaim his June 14 proclamation of a state of emergency that suspended a whole slew—nearly two dozen—state laws. But the proclamation wasn’t posted until recently, blindsiding the public and state legislators.

Pronunciation: "prä-kl&-'mA-sh&n
Function: noun
1 :  the act of proclaiming
2 :  something proclaimed; specifically :  an official formal public announcement (as a public notice, edict, or decree)

[It’s a little cute, but I found myself asking, “If a governor proclaims something in the forest and nobody hears, is it really proclaimed?”]

The Governor’s failure to promulgate his June emergency order until recently amounts to issuing secret laws.

If the public remains passive, the darkness will only thicken. To avoid going back to the bad old days of secret government maneuvers, citizens and advocacy groups will have to apply some pressure.

We live in the information age. It should be a given that if we tap on our iPads we should be able to find out what our government is doing and when. Citizen participation in 2011 depends on being able to get the information we want just by tapping. Lawsuits shouldn’t be necessary.

And as to secret laws… that’s just so 18th century.




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The Governor’s failure to promulgate his June emergency order until recently amounts to issuing secret laws.

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