Wednesday, May 14, 2014
OHA apparently violated state Sunshine Law with secret meeting(s) in Washington, DC
by Larry Geller
Tuesday’s Star-Advertiser reported a meeting of OHA trustees held in Washington DC at which the trustees discussed a letter sent to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry by OHA Chief Executive Officer Kamana‘opono. The trustees then voted to send a rescinding letter:
After learning about the letter Friday while on business in Washington, OHA trustees voted unanimously to fire off another letter to Kerry rescinding Crabbe's letter, explaining that it doesn't reflect the position of the board.
[Star-Advertiser p. A1, OHA executive defends letter to Kerry, 5/13/2014]
It appears that whatever meetings the OHA trustees may have held in Washington, or any meetings since that time, were held in secret—that is, no agendas were filed in advance with the Lieutenant Governor’s office, and no public notice appears to have been given.
I attempted to call OHA Chair Colette Machado, but was routed to voicemail, so I checked instead with the Lieutenant Governor’s office. They were able to confirm that no notice is on record with them, a requirement of the Sunshine Law.
The calendar page for the OHA Board of Trustees on the eHawaii.gov website shows no events for the entire month.
I learned yesterday that someone has filed a complaint on the same issue with the Office of Information Practices. Today, since telephone contact with the Chair was not successful, I faxed a request for any agendas that might have been filed, and a request for minutes of the meetings.
Although a board or commission may be traveling outside of Hawaii, the responsibility for complying with the Sunshine Laws still holds. Otherwise, boards could (for example) escape to Vegas and hold meetings outside of public scrutiny. So it’s appropriate that someone filed a complaint, and I don’t mind that they beat me to it.
[Thanks to the astute Disappeared News reader who called this to my attention. I’ll have to admit that in reading the article, I was drawn to the significance of the letter to Kerry and didn’t notice that the trustee meeting might itself be illegal under state law. OHA is a state agency and subject to open meeting and open records laws.]