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BIPC rips County Council; applauds Civil Defense


Hawaii County Council Members, having run roughshod over the Sunshine Law in the last year, earned the Big Island PressClub’s 13th annual Lava Tube award in recognition of the year’s most notable offenses against the public’s “right to know.”

The County Council disregarded the Sunshine Law when reorganizing last June, sparking a lawsuit between the Council and West Hawaii Today that produced a restraining order against the Council and an order for the county to pay $23,000 in attorney’s fees to the newspaper. In the restraining order, Judge Ronald Ibarra barred any further Council action until council members reversed the reorganization and gave proper notice of the matter.

“It is clear that a quorum of councilors discussed resolutions regarding selection of board officers pending before the board, prior to and outside of, the June 16, 2009, public meeting, in violation of (the state Sunshine Law),” Ibarra said.

Throughout the course of the lawsuit, council members spoke publicly of the inconvenience of the state’s Open Meetings Law. Kona Councilman Kelly Greenwell openly stated that he does not believe in the Sunshine Law.

Big Island Press Club President Stephanie Salazar said the Sunshine Law exists not for convenience but to ensure the public’s participation in government.

Salazar pointed to the introduction to the Open Meetings Law, which states, “Governmental agencies exist to aid the people in the formation and conduct of public policy. Opening up the governmental processes to public scrutiny and participation is the only viable and reasonable method of protecting the public’s interest.”

“The Big Island Press Club cannot help but award the Lava Tube to the Hawaii County Council, which has shown everyone its lack of regard for the public’s interest and public scrutiny,” Salazar said.

A Lava Tube Dishonorable Mention award is also being made to the state Office of Information Practices this year for its low work output. The agency has rendered only five formal opinions in the last two years, about one-fifth of its normal work product.

The Lava Tube award is announced each March 16, Freedom of Information Day, honoring the birthday of James Madison. Born in 1751, Madison was author of the U.S. constitution and the foremost advocate for openness.

The Press Club also honors the best efforts to promote openness in Hawaii with the Torch of Light award, which also has been presented annually since 1997.

This year several county departments, led by Civil Defense, receive the Torch of Light Award.

In 2008, state Civil Defense, having obtained a grant for emergency notification services, approached Hawaii County and Kauai County to be test cases. All Hawaii county departments were given the option of signing up for voice, email, and text notification. To date Civil Defense, Public Works, Water Supply, Fire, and Human Resources Safety Division have signed on.

In addition, through the efforts of Public Works Public Information Officer Noelani Whittington, Public Works, Civil Defense and Fire set up a hotline at (808) 334-9559 to provide public notice about bridge and road closures or construction, wildfires, or other pertinent information.

The Hawaii Police Department also made its own strides in public notification, signing up for a separate system to disseminate its press releases. For that endeavor, the Press Club awards a Torch of Light Honorable Mention to the police department.

Previous Lava Tube Dishonorees

2009 Noelani Whittington, Department of Public Works
2008 Mayor Harry Kim and Hawaii County Council
2007 State Board of Education
2006 Honolulu, Kauai, and Big Island County Councils
2005 District Judge Matthew S.K. Pyun
2004 State Land Board Chairman Peter Young
2003 State Sen. Cal Kawamoto
2002 University of Hawaii Board of Regents
2001 University of Hawaii Board of Regents
2000 State Rep. Eric Hamakawa and Hawaii County Councilman James Arakaki
1999 Hawaii County Council
1998 Hawaii Gov. Ben Cayetano
1997 Hawaii County Councilman Elroy Osorio

Previous Torch of Light Honorees

2009 Legislature, Gov. Linda Lingle
2008 Les Kondo, Office of Information Practices
2007 West Hawaii Today
2006 Lillian Koller, State Dept. of Human Services
2005 Retired Circuit Judge Paul de Silva
2004 UH Manoa Journalism Professor Beverly Keever
2003 U.S. Rep. Patsy Mink (posthumously)
2002 Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim
2001 Hawaii County Clerk Al Konishi
2000 Hawaii Gov. Ben Cayetano
1999 Jerry Rothstein and Judith Graham
1998 Environment Hawaii and Common Cause
1997 Society of Professional Journalists, Hawaii Chapter

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