Wednesday, February 12, 2003

New director takes over
for Hawaii’s open records laws

Les Kondo wants to address
a backlog of pending opinions

By Pat Omandam

It was at the end of last month when attorney Leslie H. "Les" Kondo received a call from the Governor's Office asking if he wanted to serve as director of the state Office of Information Practices.

State of Hawaii Kondo, 39, a partner with the law firm of Chun & Nagatani, said he first asked some questions about the post, then later expressed interest in heading the state agency that oversees Hawaii's open records laws.

"This position is about trust, honesty and openness, and I look forward to working with the administration and the public to make government information accessible," he said in a written statement.

Gov. Linda Lingle announced Kondo's appointment yesterday, although he has been on the job since last Wednesday.

"Right now, I'm trying to get my feet on the ground and kind of find out where the office is at and what the office is doing," he said in a telephone interview yesterday.

Kondo said among the things he wants to address is the backlog of opinions pending in the office. He hopes to address it once the legislative session ends and he has a grasp of office operations.

During the past five years, the office has opened an average of 404 new cases a year. Last fiscal year, it reviewed and closed 412 assignments.

"That's something that I think we want to address, just because I think that doesn't serve the public too much good if we have a backlog of a number of years," Kondo said.

Lingle said the Office of Information Practices can be a lot more effective and efficient in processing requests for letters of opinions.

One example she cited yesterday was a letter she received from the office shortly after she became governor. The letter asked her opinion on whether the list of nominees from the state Judicial Selection Commission should be released to the media.

Lingle, a former journalist, said she wrote back to OIP that it shouldn't seek her opinion on what should be done. Personally, she said, she would release the names of these potential judges.

"I think an office that's set up to make determinations on whether or not information should be made public should be making some good judgment calls on their own, and should not be asking me what I think about it," she said.

Kondo replaces OIP director Moya Davenport Gray, who served as director since 1995.

Kondo's legal practice, which has been put on hold since taking the directorship, has centered around commercial construction product defects, insurance coverage litigation and landlord-tenant issues. A graduate of Northwestern University, he has a bachelor's degree in science and industrial engineering. Kondo is a 1990 graduate of the UH Richardson School of Law.

The OIP's annual budget has been about $350,000 a year since fiscal year 1999. Of its current eight positions, there is a director, three staff attorneys and three other staff members. One position remains unfunded.

Office of Information Practices

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