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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, February 5, 2006

Open-records panel sought

By Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser Staff Writer

Council members from across the state are backing creation of a new Board of Information Practices that they say would help guide them in following the state's so-called Sunshine Law, which regulates open meetings and records.

The chairmen of four county councils Honolulu, Kaua'i, the Big Island and Maui say that a Board of Information Practices would help provide practical analysis to the state Office of Information Practices. Three of the council chairmen met Friday with The Advertiser's editorial board to discuss the proposals.

Kaua'i County Council Chairman Bill "Kaipo" Asing said he feels that recent opinions have made county lawmakers fearful of mistakenly violating the law. "All of a sudden, all the things that we used to do are wrong," he said.

Asing said he has been told that it would be improper for more than two of the seven council members to attend a community meeting. So that meant that at a recent meeting in Hanalei, only two of the interested council members could go, he said. And that didn't make sense to him.

Big Island County Council Chairman Stacy Higa said he was floored to be criticized for possible violations of the Sunshine Law when four council members traveled to Taipei to discuss "how we do business in Hawai'i."

Higa shook his head in frustration. "There was no hidden agenda," he said.

The bills to create the five-member board have been introduced in both the state House and Senate. The board members would be appointed by the governor from a list of nominees assembled by the judicial council. The governor would be required to select a former member of an elected state or county board, a former member of an appointed state or county board, and three members of the general public. The appointees would be subject to confirmation by the Senate.

Honolulu City Council Chairman Donovan Dela Cruz said the county lawmakers welcome open government but have been frustrated by some legal opinions that have come out of the Office of Information Practices. Without a board, Dela Cruz sees taking the matter to court as the only way to respond to disagreements with interpretations of the law.

"Government suing government is that a good use of taxpayer dollars?" he asked.

Reach Robbie Dingeman at rdingeman@honoluluadvertiser.com.