The League of Women Voters of Hawaii opposes HB 2216 which would increase the number of board members who could discuss among themselves matters relating to official board business as long as the number of board members involved in the discussion does not constitute a quorum.
Open meetings require that discussions, deliberations and decision-making occur
during the official, noticed meetings. For any involved or substantive matter, we assume that the board members have been supplied with informational materials to study before the next scheduled meeting. We've gone along with allowing two members to contact one another because we felt that it may be necessary at times to ask about the meaning of a certain paragraph, or how to interpret a certain passage, etc. in order to direct one's thinking toward the best solution to a problem or the best policy for a given situation or issue. We have given these members who are performing a public service after all, the benefit of the doubt that they are observing the spirit of the law.
We have observed board meetings where discussions were spirited, positions were challenged, opinions changed through deliberations until some consensus was reached or majority vote achieved. And for those boards, generally that was the normal method of operating. The public attending those meetings felt included, knew the different considerations given an airing, the rational for the final decision whether one agreed with it or not, and felt that the decision was certainly arrived at in public and not outside of the public meeting.
Then there are those meetings where beyond someone explaining the issue, hardly any opinions are exchanged, only a few questions are asked about some detail, and a vote taken. Either the decision had already been made in advance, or the members were depending on the advice of the “leader”.
We've observed meetings where most of the deliberations and decisions must have been made outside, and that every concession to the public's desire for more inclusion and transparency of the process was made grudgingly after much effort on the part of the public.
We cannot encourage the flaunting of the open meetings law or only observing it as narrowly as tolerated by the public. There will always be the pushing and pulling to alter the parameters of the law. We must resist the push that this amendment will bring.
For the protection of the spirit of the open meetings law, we urge that this bill be held in committee.
We thank you for this opportunity to testify on HB 2216.