Council cleared in vote dispute
Hawaii County did not violate open-meeting rules, its attorney says
HILO » The Hawaii County Council did nothing illegal when it postponed a controversial vote while the public was present, then went ahead with the vote after the public was gone, county attorney Lincoln Ashida said in a legal opinion.
Various observers, including Councilman Angel Pilago, questioned whether the Council violated the state Sunshine Law when it unexpectedly held the vote to reorganize its leadership on the afternoon of Nov. 22.
The Sunshine Law states that its intent is to give the public the opportunity to watch government discussions and decisions "as openly as possible."
It also says the law must be interpreted "liberally," meaning in the manner that gives the most openness.
Ashida noted, "There was a general sentiment that further discussion of the resolution (to reorganize the Council) would occur at a subsequent meeting of the Council and not on Nov. 22, 2005."
Of 63 members of the public who testified on the matter during a 3 1/2-hour period, most had left when the surprise afternoon vote was taken. The majority of the testimony had been against the reorganization.
Ashida recognized that some members of the public considered the Council's vote to postpone, followed by a reversal, to be a "bait and switch" tactic. That was not the Council's intent, he said.
Hugh Clark, a spokesman for the Big Island Press Club, questioned Ashida's opinion. "I don't think that's the end of the story," he said.
The club is considering asking the state Office of Information Practices whether the Council violated the Sunshine Law, he said.
Based on Councilman Pilago's questions about the vote, Ashida said he has already asked the OIP for such an opinion. "I look at them as sort of an appellate body. If people aren't satisfied with what I say, that's OK," he said.
Ashida's opinion considered the Sunshine Law only briefly, saying the public was given the notice required by law that the Council reorganization would be considered on Nov. 22.
Ashida gave greater weight to Council rules and Robert's Rules of Order, which permit reconsideration of a matter previously discussed.