Saturday, March 17, 2018

Sunshine Week: Big Island press club announces annual lava tube, torch of light awards

John Cole
Sunshine Week government secrecy Cartoon: John Cole
State Office of Information Practices awarded Lava Tube dishonor;
Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest earns meritorious Torch of Light award

The Big Island Press Club awards its annual meritorious Torch of Light Award to Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest and the Lava Tube dishonor award to the state Office of Information Practices (OIP). The Torch of Light award is given to an individual or entity who brightens the public’s right to know, while the Lava Tube dishonor is given for a lack of communication and keeping the public in the dark.

Lava Tube Dishonor

The Lava Tube is awarded to the state Office of Information Practices (OIP) for the average length of time it takes to issue a decision on a public complaint about access to government information, according to reports published by The Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest (CBLC) in February 2017 and again in February 2018. The study found despite OIP having more attorneys and staff per capita than any other state with a similar office, “OIP has the longest delays for public access disputes among its peer agencies with available information.” The most recent study found that only three of the 46 decisions issued by OIP between 2015-2017 were done so in less than two years. The study also found that similar offices in other states typically rendered decisions within three to six months, with some states able to do so in even less time.

OIP quickly responded to CBLC’s latest report by stating most matters it handles doesn’t require a written opinion and in 2017 resolved most the same day through its Attorney of the Day service. It also stated, “CBLC’s motives are suspect,” and asked rhetorically, “Without OIP to provide (Attorney of the Day) service, would there be more clients for a ‘public interest’ law firm to choose from?” That’s basically a suggestion that a nonprofit law organization that takes cases strictly on a pro bono basis is seeking to poach clients from OIP.

Senate Bill 3092, which would give OIP a hard deadline of six months to render big decisions, was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Feb. 13, but no hearings have been scheduled since.

Since its founding, the Big Island Press Club has protested any absence of transparency or accountability within the halls of state and county government in Hawaii. This Lava Tube award is especially unfortunate, as OIP is the state agency tasked with ensuring state and county government organizations in Hawaii abide by two state laws--the Uniform Information Practices Act (UIPA), which is the state’s open-records law, and the Sunshine Law, which is the state’s open-meetings law. BIPC’s officers agree with the statement in CBLC’s most recent report: “Forcing the public to wait two years or more for resolution of public access disputes at OIP is unacceptable.”

Torch of Light

BIPC has selected Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest for its Torch of Light award for the research between 2015-17 that brought the time lag between complaints and the time it takes OIP to issue decisions on weighty public access issues.

The CBLC, according to its website, is an independent, nonprofit organization which offers “free legal advice, and representation on a select basis, to members of the media and the public who need help with issues involving government transparency.”  It seeks to forge “solutions that promote transparency in government to better serve the people of Hawaii” and, as in the case of OIP, “investigating questionable government activity, advocating for corrective action, and, if needed, enforcing corrective measures in the courts.”

Funded by eBay founder and philanthropist Pierre Omidyar, Civil Beat Law Center is a different entity than the news website Honolulu Civil Beat.

The Big Island Press Club, the state's oldest press club, founded in 1967-- has awarded the Lava Tube and the Torch of Light annually since 1997 on Freedom of Information Day, March 16. This day also marks the birthday of our nation’s fourth president, James Madison. Born in 1751, Madison was the principal architect of the U.S. Constitution, and one of the three authors of the Federalist Papers; he is recognized by historians as one of America’s earliest and foremost advocates for open, accountable governance.

Previous Lava Tube Dishonorees
2016 Former Mayor Billy Kenoi
2015 State Land Board Chairwoman Suzanne Case
2014 Chief Elections Officer Scott Nago
2013 Democratic Party House District 5 Council
2012 State Sen. Clayton Hee
2011 Governor Neil Abercrombie
2010 Hawaii County Council
2009 Noelani Whittington, County Department of Public Works
2008 Mayor Harry Kim and Hawaii County Council
2007 State Board of Education
2006 Honolulu, Kauai, and Hawaii 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
2016 West Hawaii Today reporter Nancy Cook Lauer
2015 State Sen. Lorraine Inouye
2014 USGS HVO Scientists
2013 Mayor Billy Kenoi
2012 County Councilwoman and state Rep. Helene Hale (posthumously)
2011 State Judicial Selection Commission
2010 Hawaii County Civil Defense and other departments
2009 Legislature, Gov. Linda Lingle
2008 Les Kondo, Office of Information Practices
2007 West Hawaii Today
2006 Lillian Koller, State Department 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