Wednesday, July 13, 2011


LOOKIN' LIKE A FOOL WITH YOUR BRAINS ON THE GROUND: Mom always said that the only reason to keep banging your head against the wall is that it feels so good when you stop.

But sometimes it feels a little better when someone comes along and and joins in by banging theirs.

We've concussed more times than we care to remember over the "paper tiger" status of the state's Office of Information Practices (OIP) that resulted from the infamous "ES-177" case in which the County of Kaua`i sued the OIP rather than give up the minutes to an "executive session (ES)" in 2005.

But today we gained a banging-mate in the person of John Temple of the on-line news source Civil Beat who, in bemoaning the fact that new OIP chief Cheryl Kakazu Park called "futile," any effort to force either Governor Neil Abercrombie or the Honolulu Police Department to release records that, despite OIP orders to "give 'em up," remain ferreted away in some filing cabinet.

Temple actually figured out why, despite a clear law backed up by legislative intent documents, OIP lost it's sole authority to determine when documents must be made public by the state and its political subdivisions, actually citing the ES-177 case, albeit through a link.

In County of Kaua`i vs Office of Information Practices the Intermediate Court of Appeals ruled that the county could in fact go to circuit court to overturn an OIP directive.

According to the decision:

OIP maintained that HRS § 92F-15.5(b) (1993) did not provide County "the right to appeal or otherwise contest an OIP determination that a record must be disclosed under the [Uniform Information Practices Act (UIPA)]." OIP cited to Conference Committee Report No. 17 on Senate Bill No. 1799, in 1989 Senate Journal, at 763-64, which stated that "a government agency dissatisfied with an administrative ruling by the OIP does not have the right to bring an action in circuit court to contest the OIP ruling." OIP also cited to HRS § 632-1, which provided, inter alia, that "[w]here . . . a statute provides a special form of remedy for a specific type of case, that statutory remedy shall be followed."

But despite the fact that the original request was for the minutes- clearly a document- the court ruled that the real intent somehow dealt with HRS 92, the open meetings or Sunshine law, over which OIP does not have sole discretion.

We're certainly gratified to have someone with a bigger megaphone take up the cause and couldn't agree more with Temple who concluded today's first of two columns by saying that the language in HRS 92F-15.5:

clearly gives the OIP the power to order government agencies to make records available. Yet, that power isn't being wielded today, at least in part because of a 2009 Hawaii Intermediate Court of Appeals decision. That case involved not just the UIPA but also the open meetings law, known as the Sunshine law, which doesn't give the OIP the same strong powers as the open records law.

The result of the appeals court decision appears to be confusion — and a weakened OIP.

Cheryl Kakazu Park, OIP's director, defends her office, but says she's going to seek clarification of its powers from the Legislature next year. She says she sees agencies voluntarily comply with OIP advice.

"For the most part, they have wanted to comply," she told me.


But it was Park who wrote that it would be "futile" for her to rule on an appeal of the governor's rejection of requests for the names of judicial nominees.

Futile. Even though the language of the statute clearly says what should happen when OIP rules on appeal that a document should be public: "The agency shall make the record available."

Something is terribly wrong with this picture.

It's a two edged sword. Even though the open meetings and records laws in Hawai`i are broken, anyone who has seen the legislature in action know that they are just as libel to make things worse as they are to remedy the situation once they get a bill on the table.

But perhaps the sound of other headbangers will force the legislature to give the OIP the authority that they were supposedly given when the law was passed.

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