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LWV-Hawaii Legislative Testimony

HB 2730 HD1

Relating to
Legal Requirements for Neighborhood Board Meetings

Senate Committee on Intergovernmental and Military Affairs (IGM) - chair: Inouye, vice chair: Tsutsui

Monday, March 17, 2008, 3:30 P.M. Conference Room 229

Testifier: Jean Aoki, Legislative Team member, LWV of Hawaii

Click here to view HB2730 HD1

The League of Women Voters opposes HB 2730 H.D.1 Relating to Legal Requirements for Neighborhood Board Meetings.

We urge the deletion of Section 92 – Permitted interactions of neighborhood board members which begins on page 2, line 16 and ends on page 3, line 12.

HB 2730 HD1 would allow two or more members but fewer than the number necessary for a quorum to attend informational meetings or presentations on matters relating to official board business, including meetings of another entity, seminars, and community meetings provided that the presentation is not specifically and exclusively organized for or directed toward members of the board, and to allow the board members to participate in discussions, including discussions among themselves; provided that the discussions occur during and as part of the informational meeting or presentation allowed by subsection (a) and provided further that there is no commitment made relating to a vote on the issue.

These provisions are not in keeping with the objectives nor the spirit of the open meetings law. We know the importance of full discussions on matters before the boards at their duly scheduled meetings. There, the public should hear all of the information pertinent to the issues under consideration, the answers to questions board members may have which probably reflect the questions the pubic has, and all of the pros and cons. There already is in the law, provisions for the appointment of fact finding committees to report back to the board. The law does not prevent individual board members from doing some research on their own and using the acquired information in the discussion on the issue under consideration.

Prior discussions held outside the board meetings tend to abbreviate the deliberative process because the members have gotten answers as to facts and the implications and consequences of different actions taken on the issues and have already heard the supportive and opposing views. Not only does this short circuiting of the process raise suspicions of closed door agreements, it deprives the public of valuable information and all of the reasoning behind the action taken by the board.

One might argue that the neighborhood boards are only advisory in nature and do not have the power to enact laws so they should not be held to the same standards as other boards. But to the extent that they do have the power to influence the policies adopted by the city council, and even by the legislature when there seems to be general consensus among the majority of the boards on any given issue, they must be perceived as being responsive to the opinions of the residents of the neighborhoods that they represent. Without transparency in their operating procedures, that perception could erode.

We note that many members eventually run for elected office or are appointed to boards where they could be exercising policy-making powers where transparency is even more critical. The attitudes they develop on the importance of open government and its critical role in a constitutional democracy will carry over to their new roles.

We would reiterate our plea that you delete Section 92 –Permitted interactions of neighborhood board members from HB 2730, HD1.

Public Input
I would like to briefly discuss one issue addressed here that is peculiar to NB meetings – the public input item on all their agenda, separate from testimony allowed on issues on the agenda. I've sat through countless meetings of the neighborhood boards all over Oahu, and have noticed that many of the concerns raised have to do with occurrences or problems in the immediate neighborhood of the speakers, or other issues mostly of interest to members of the neighborhood represented by the respective boards. It's mostly a fuzzy, friendly situation where even the least sophisticated among us can dare to air our concerns.

Where we would not support such an item on the agenda of most boards, we support it whole-heartedly for the neighborhood boards.

However, we would like to propose an amendment to the last sentence in subsection section 92-A-(c) beginning on line 1 of Page 2. “The board may make decisions on matters originally raised as part of a public input agenda only at a later meeting [the agenda for which shall give notice of decision-making on the matter.] at which time the original as well as new testimony will be allowed to be presented. The agenda will give notice of the item for both discussion and decision-making.

Since the item was not on the agenda when it was raised, it should be treated as a new item for purposes of discussion and decision-making.

As to the rest of the bill, we would suggest the language used in S.B. 2201, S.D.1, a companion bill to HB 2730 which tightens the requirements for meeting unusual or unanticipated events.

We want to reemphasize the strong support that the League has for the neighborhood board system. Even with the advisory nature of their powers, the boards must appreciate their importance to the governance of the city and the democratic process in our community. They fill a badly needed niche in our political system; they truly are the voice of the common man and woman. The extent to which our community continues to have trust and faith in the NB system and the individual boards depends a great deal on the openness of their deliberations and decision-making. Once the boards are perceived to be operating behind closed doors, the trust and faith in them will erode.

Our hope is for the continued health of the NB system and the strengthening of the weaker boards. And above all, we support practices that will ensure that democracy will prevail, and the people of our state and the nation can live with the assurance that they will have their say on the future of our state and our country.

Thank you for this opportunity to testify on HB 2730, H.D.1.


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