Tuesday, May 5, 2009



When Kapa`a Librarian Lani Kawahara decided to run for county council she wanted to catch up on some of the nuts and bolts of the Kaua`i county council machine.

And so, as an professional information specialist she went on line to look for public documents like meeting minutes and the bills, resolutions and “communications” that are on the council’s agenda every fortnight.

“I was disappointed to see nothing but agendas” she told PNN.

After being elected, Kawahara decided that the first thing she would do would be to make sure she kept her campaign promise to “(i)ncreas(e) openness in County Government decision making” to make sure these items were posted at the council’s web site.

“It sounded simple enough” she said, “but I had no idea of the kind of resistance I’d get.”

Kawahara says she has spent the past five months making requests of both Council Chair Kaipo Asing but moreover with County Clerk Peter Nakamura, all to no avail.

“I never thought they actually didn’t want them posted, but now it’s apparent they don’t” she said.

At first they denied her verbal request actually telling her that no one was interested in them and it would take too much staff time. But when she said all they would have to do is to provide her with the electronic versions and she would post them herself, she was told that the paper copies that all councilmember receive is all that are available.

“All the bills, resolutions and minutes and most of the communications handed out to the public in paper form are created electronically and it’s really easy to post them that way.” she says.

Citing the fact that the administration is now posting minutes and documents from board and commission meetings she asked that the council’s be transmitted to county IT Director Eric Knutzen who had agreed to post them for the council too.

When she talked to Knutzen she found out that he had set up the system for each department to easily post their own documents themselves- a system which council services was welcome to use.

She informed Nakamura of the system but he told her council records are not the kuleana of the administration and he didn’t want to use the administration’s system.

Finally in March she made a written request for the public records in electronic form- a request that has been so far ignored.

PNN has been pressing Kawahara about when we could expect those records on line, along with the live video streaming of the council meeting- something Knutzen is planning for the police and planning commission meetings, along with an index for clips, sorted by subject.

When she told us of her request we told her “you’ll never get them” to which she replied “why does everyone keep saying that?”.

The records issue is not the only place councilmembers have been stymied by Asing and Nakamura.

Generally all members of legislative bodies may introduce legislation. But since the chair has discretion over the agenda, on Kaua`i councilmembers who have bills and resolutions they’d like to introduce- which should be their right as council members- have been denied if the chair doesn’t want it introduced.

Kawahara says she has had no success in even getting her measures drafted by the legal analysts that traditionally assist councilmembers with legislation to insure it stands up to legal scrutiny.

Apparently all the analysts’ time is taken up by Chair Asing and Clerk Nakamura and she has been unable to get any staff time for her projects because, the analysts tell her, she has to clear that through Asing and Nakamura.

“It doesn’t seem like a very fair system,” she says. ‘I have various measures I’d like to put on the table but it’s been a frustrating experience.

“I don’t relish saying this publicly but that is the only way I have at this juncture to put some pressure on them to treat my records-posting request with respect.”

The fact that Kaua`i is the only island where councilmembers do not have any staff of their own has been a gripe of councilmembers for many years. Other islands not only provide each member with at least one individual staff person but some provide them with their own legal analyst.

But “first things first”, Kawahara thinks the system of access to public documents is ripe for change.

“I don’t think it’s anything malicious- they have just done it this way for so long that they have become resistant to doing it any other way.” she says.

“I don’t want to rock the boat. I just want to be the agent of change people elected me to be”.

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