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President's Message (Helen Hemmes)
Annual Meeting Highlights
Annual Meeting Minutes (Julie Mink)
Gambling (Abigail Laros)
The Sun Shines on County Lawmakers (Leilani Bronson-Crelly)
LWV Monitors Sunshine through the Years (Helen Hemmes & Sue Irvine)
Calendar
LWVHC Attends State Convention
LWVHC Virtual Council
LWV of Hawaii County Treasurer's Report / Budget 2009-10 (Sue Irvine)

LWV Monitors Sunshine through the Years

The following is a compilation by Sue Irvine, of information found in League of Women Voters of Hawaii County files on Act 92, Hawaii’s Sunshine Law.

Hawaii Tribune-Herald October 31, 1987

“The League of Women Voters in Hawaii has become the third organization to complain about ‘apparent violations’ of the state Sunshine Law by the Hawaii County Council.” Co-Presidents of the Hawaii County League, Dorothy Doudna (Hilo) and Marge Mulhall (Kona), wrote to Chair Steve Yamashiro and members of the Council Monday, October 8th, “Our organization believes that the public’s business should be conducted in public and that the reason for this state statute is to insure that the people are aware of the reasoning behind decisions that are made…by our elected officials. It is even more disturbing that no member of the Council voiced a concern about this secret meeting.”

Hawaii Tribune-Herald Thursday, Sept. 28, 1995 “Clouds Cover Sunshine Law”

Reporter Kevin Dayton wrote that Attorney General Margery Bronster was asked to clarify if and when council members could meet privately. Her answer according to the article, “anytime two or more members discuss matters before the council, they are essentially ‘deliberating.’ Their discussion is therefore subject to the Sunshine Law, and must be held in an announced, public meeting.” Disagreeing, lawyer and council member, Brian De Lima, said that council members may meet to exchange information as long as members do “…not make decisions or pledge their votes in those private meetings.”

December 21, 1998

Judge Ron Ibarra in Third Circuit Court, decided in favor of Jerry Rothstein in “Rothstein et al. v County of Hawaii et al.” Jerry was a tireless public advocate and some time League member who had filed a lawsuit challenging county council action violating the Sunshine Law while comprehensively amending the Hawaii County zoning code. The Council was forced to redo their deliberations on the zoning code while “in the sun.”

Hawaii Tribune-Herald Sunday, January 31, 1999: “Sunshine Law under attack: Arakaki seeks exemption”

Jason Armstrong reported that State Representative Eric Hamakawa introduced a bill to exempt county councils from the state Sunshine Law. ”… Hamakawa tried to distance himself from it (the bill) by claiming he is not really an advocate of exempting Hawaii’s four county councils from the sunshine law. Hamakawa said he ‘introduced the bill at the request of the Hawaii County Council Chairman James Arakaki.’ ”

October 3, 2005 / PRESS RELEASE Open Government and Journalists Groups File Suit to End Secret Meetings

Today, eight open government and journalists’ organizations filed a lawsuit in circuit court seeking to stop the Honolulu City Council from holding secret one-on-one meetings on council business. The plaintiffs are asking the court to enforce an August 4th Office of Information Practices ruling that this practice violates the state Sunshine Law.

The complaint alleges that the Honolulu City Council conducted a series of secret meetings, limited to two council members each, to discuss and reach preliminary agreement on Resolution No. 05-243 which was adopted on July 13, 2005. The plaintiffs ask the court to rule that this practice is illegal.

Attorneys Jeffrey Portnoy and Elijah Yip of the Cades Schutte law firm filed the lawsuit on behalf of the plaintiffs in the circuit court of the First Judicial Circuit. Portnoy said, “It is clear that a series of secret one-on-one meetings that reaches a rolling quorum violates the intent and spirit of Hawai'i's open meetings law.”

The group of plaintiffs includes the Right To Know Committee, League of Women Voters of Hawai'i, Citizen Voice, Hawai'i Pro-Democracy Initiative, Big Island Press Club, Society of Professional Journalists – Hawai'i Chapter, SPJ University of Hawai'i Chapter, and Honolulu Community-Media Council.

Speaking for the plaintiffs group, Stirling Morita, FOI Committee chair for the Hawaii chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, said “We hope this suit will signal to government that this type of backroom vote-gathering will not be tolerated. Our fear is that this will become a widespread practice shutting out the public from discussions and decisions on issues.”

Sue Irvine, president of the League of Women Voters of Hawai'i, said, “When a government board skirts around the sunshine law, the attorney general or OIP should stop such action. Citizens shouldn't have to do government's job of enforcing the law.

Court Rules Private Serial Communications Violate State's Sunshine Law, Feb 6, 2006

A lawsuit initiated by open government groups has succeeded in stopping the Honolulu City Council from holding secret one-on-one meetings on council business. Last week, Judge Eden Elizabeth Hifo ruled that the City Council's practice of allowing "Council members to meet in a series of one-on-one discussions on the same Council business is contrary to the letter, intent, and spirit of the Sunshine Law.”

In August 2005 the Office of Information Practices issued an opinion that the series of secret meetings, limited to two City Council members each, to discuss and reach agreement on Resolution No. 05-243 violated the state Sunshine Law. Council leaders had indicated they would disregard the OIP opinion and continue its practice of conducting serial private meetings.

Open government groups are opposed to the City Council’s secret meetings because if allowed, the Sunshine Law and public’s right to know would be undermined. Because OIP has no authority to enforce its opinions, the open government groups felt compelled to file the lawsuit to enforce the OIP opinion. Legislation to authorize OIP to enforce the Sunshine Law is currently pending at the legislature.

Speaking for the plaintiffs group, Stirling Morita, Freedom Of Information Committee chair for the Hawaii chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, said “We hope this will clarify the law to various boards that the public's business should be done in public and not in some back room through one-on-one communications done in a serial manner.”

"This successful lawsuit signals the increasing and legitimate demand that Hawai'i's state and local government officials fulfill their obligation to conduct the public's business in the open,” said journalism educator Beverly Keever, Right To Know Chair. “This suit was brought by citizens and organizations devoted to protecting the people's right to know and it succeeded with the generous assistance of one of Honolulu's premier law firms. Government bodies should not waste taxpayer dollars by fighting or undercutting each other and contesting the legal expertise of OIP with its statutory mandate to help citizens and advise Hawai'i's officials at the state and local levels about open government.”

Sue Irvine, president of the League of Women Voters of Hawai'i, said, "Since our founding the year after women were allowed to vote, the LWV has been promoting active citizen participation in government. This is only possible when citizens are informed of when and where government officials meet, so we are delighted with this ruling which ensures that the public will not be excluded from City Council deliberations."

Citizen Voice president Peter Bower, said, "There are times that our local and state governing bodies need to be reminded that democracy is not necessarily synonymous with efficiency. Democracy is an attitude of openness and willingness to listen to one another, regardless of our 'position', and for our entire community to benefit from its collective wisdom."

Jeffrey Portnoy, said "This decision by Judge Hifo will hopefully clear up any ambiguity regarding the legal requirements of conducting the public's business in public and is a significant victory for the people of this State and County who believe in open government".

Honolulu Advertiser March 10, 2009 “Isles’ Sunshine Law is under attack again”

“Senate Bill 2174 is part of an ongoing push by county councils to weaken the Sunshine Law, which applies to all county and state governing bodies except the Legislature, which exempted itself…The Senate Judiciary Committee praised the bill for allowing ‘more flexibility toward efficiently completing board business.’ Rubbish.” said the Advertiser. The LWV agrees – democracy, although the best, is not the most efficient form of government. Another chapter on sunshine is being written in Hawaii County this summer.

Sue Irvine

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