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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, March 12, 2006

Public's rights denied during closed meetings

By Laura Bullock

Ignorance is really not bliss when it comes to not knowing what is going on during state and county board meetings held by our elected officials.

Why has the need for the sunshine law become so important? The sunshine law was enacted to shed light on what our elected officials are doing in state and county board meetings and to ensure that citizens have the right to gain access to any documents pertaining to their actions.

This allows us to have the ability to monitor our elected officials and ultimately hold them accountable for their actions, and to ensure that they are representing the needs of those who put them in office.

The law also is designed to allow for citizen participation in the process by posting in a timely way notices, agendas and the need for any closed or executive sessions; and to make the minutes available to the public.

Opening up the governmental process to public scrutiny and participation allows the public to have its interests protected.

When the people who elected the officials that represent them do not understand why or how voting is being done, the potential for discontent and dissatisfaction is much higher.

Indeed, the frustration may lead people to give up and not vote at all or vote the official out of office, possibly for the wrong reason.

It appears that some of our elected officials would rather do business away from public scrutiny.

The sunshine law does not apply to the Legislature, so lawmakers do not have to comply with the requirements if they choose not to.

The sunshine law was enacted to safeguard the public's rights and to lift any veil of secrecy. Secrecy and lack of knowledge about our local government's business fosters a climate of distrust and the lack of ability for citizens to make informed decisions.

Knowledge is power. The lack of knowledge weakens our ability to provide quality input when afforded the opportunity to do so at a board meeting.

The public scrutiny allowed by the sunshine law ultimately ensures that the government is working for the people. We cannot allow the individuals we elected in good faith to not be 100 percent accountable for their actions and decisions, or let them be unwilling to share how and why they arrived at their conclusions.

As voters, we must demand that our elected officials adhere to the sunshine law to the best of their ability as long as lives are not at risk or the security of our state is not at stake.

If adhering to the law makes the job more difficult, so be it.

Representing the people of Hawai'i is an honor and should be performed with utmost integrity. Leading by example should be the rule and not the exception. If our elected officials are perceived as being dishonest or lacking integrity, how do we teach our children to be honest and accountable for their actions?

Chapter 92, Hawai'i Revised Statutes, Section 92-1, declaration of policy and intent, states, "(In) a democracy, the people are vested with the ultimate decision-making power."

Governmental agencies exist to help people in the formation and conduct of public policy. If the sunshine law is not adhered to and/or ultimately goes away, the ability of the people to be involved in the decision-making process may not be possible.