DISINFECTANT APLENTY: The subject of open meetings and records- and of course the related Sunshine Laws- has always been near and dear to us. Nothing gets our blood boiling more than attempts by councilmembers across the state who try to claim it prevents them from doing their job, especially when they misrepresent restrictions on interactions with each other, even after the Office of Information Practices (OIP) tells them where "the line" is.
The typical complaint goes something like "I can't even go to dinner and talk to a fellow councilmember about the weather without violating the Sunshine Law." The fact is that there are "permitted interactions." They include allowing two members to talk about anything unrestricted as well as other bright lines of what can and can't be discussed unless it is done in a properly agendaed meeting.
But the main thing is- to perhaps oversimplify- that you can't talk about a matter of public policy that is- or is likely to be- before the body. And you can't use serial communications to avoid the ban.
So it irked us a little to see fellow champion of open governance journalist-blogger Ian Lind's comment on a proposed clarification of the law proposed by OIP.
After discussing the permitted interactions rules he wrote:
The result has been what I consider some absurd results, including the notion that circulating draft bills for signatures prior to introduction would somehow violate the law, despite the fact that it has nothing at all to do with whether the bill will become law or not.
Wow. As it turns out, a case we filed against Kaua`i County Council Chair Jay Furfaro for just such an infraction- apparently circulating a proposed bill to all other councilmembers at the time and even asking for "support" for it- was recently addressed by OIP and the only fact that prevented it from being an "unpermitted interaction" is that, according to then County Clerk Peter Nakamura, the cover letter and draft bill were never actually sent to other councilmembers, only addressed to them.
Otherwise, OIP said, it would have violated the sunshine law.
And that's as it should be. If you want to talk about the content of a bill, do it in public. It has nothing to do with the actual passing of the bill but rather the deliberations which eventually yield those pesky details that the bill will contain. It's called "deliberating toward a decision" and it includes all stages of public policy making from the drafting through the discussion and finally to the passage.
So how do you talk to your fellow councilmembers about proposed legislation? The answer may be contained in a notice for a "workshop" the Kaua`i Council has scheduled for next Tuesday January 24 at 9 a.m. at the Kaua’i Civil Defense Agency- Emergency Operating Center, 3990 Ka’ana Street, Suite 100
According to the notice:
A facilitated workshop is scheduled to set goals that the Kaua’i County Council would like to see achieved in the next few years and to discuss issues pertaining thereto that could include:
So far, so good. Sounds like they are finally "getting it" and want to let the public in at the planning stage rather than springing matters on us as a "done deal."
But then, to our astonishment, the agenda list 41, count 'em 41, subjects they intend to discuss, each subject so broad that each individual item could spur hours of discussion. We've listed them at the end of this post.
That also means that if the public wanted to testify on each one, assuming they'd be given the usual six minutes to speak on each, just one person could sit there for just over fours hours... although, because all 41 are listed under one agenda item they might decide to give only one six minute time allotment for all of them. That of course would leave about nine seconds a subject.
We did ask OIP for a down and dirty opinion of the sufficiency of the agenda and were told that it looked okay, although they did not address the public testimony aspects.
But the upshot is that rather than complain that they are prevented from discussing proposed legislation, this format- not with 41 subjects but with let's say with just one or two- is the way it's supposed to work. You put it on an agenda for discussion and have that discussion in public, not behind closed doors.
That's the irksome part of all this. What those who would allow these kinds of things to be done in private are saying is that, because it is a little more hassle to put a subject on the agenda and discuss it in public, we should chuck the whole concept of discussing public policy in open session and allow pols to collude behind closed doors.
The message we should be sending officeholders is this: although you apparently think that the council is your own little private fiefdom where you are a god of lawmaking unto yourself, you are, in fact, in the line of work of deciding public policy with the key word being "public." If you want to make decisions by yourself, go into the private sector and then you can make all the decision about selling your widgets as privately as you want to.
But if you want to hold public office you'd better get used to discussing public policy with that pesky public listening to the deliberations that go into your decision making.
Is that asking too much? Apparently yes.
The following is the list of subjects to be discussed at the workshop:
1. Drug abuse prevention and treatment and interdiction of illegal drugs
2. Traffic congestion relief/multimodal integrated transportation system
3. Open space acquisition! preservation, including coastal and Mauka lands and access
4. Tourism, including sustainable tourism
5. Economic development
6. Island-wide information technology & management systems
7. County information technology & management systems
8. Agriculture & biotechnology
9. Solid waste management, Materials Recovery Facility (MRF), recycling programs, and recycling facilities
11. Voter registration
12. 2012 State Legislative issues, including Transient Accommodations Tax (TAT)
13. Real property tax system
14. Town planning
15. Affordable housing
16. County budget; Operating and Capital Improvement Projects (CIP)
17. Containment of sprawl and protection of open spaces and vistas
18. Subdivisions, grading and drainage
19. Small businesses
20. Sustainability and sustainable communities
21. Park planning, development and maintenance
22. Planning issues; General Plan Update, Development Plans, Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance, Special Management Areas
23. Community outreach
24. Energy self-sufficiency, renewable energy, and renewable energy projects
25. County infrastructure
26. Preservation of “places of the heart”
28. Underground utilities
29. County as a model—”Walking the Talk”
30. County efficiency and cost control
31. Elderly programs & outreach
32. Youth programs & outreach
34. Bed & Breakfast and Transient Vacation Rentals regulations
35. Wastewater systems
36. Water systems
37. Public safety issues; police, fire and civil defense
38. Risk management
39. Public transportation
40. Intra-governmental relations
41. County Human Resource Management