Access to rail comment halted
The city says comment sheets are public but they don't have to be shown immediately
City officials have refused to allow immediate access to comment sheets submitted by people attending two meetings this week on mass transit despite acknowledging that the sheets are public documents.
"Yes, they are public," city spokesman Bill Brennan said.
Brennan said the documents will be available for review later, after the city reviews them, but he would not provide a specific timetable.
At other city public hearings or meetings, written testimony is generally available on request. City officials told the Star-Bulletin that neither Tuesday's meeting nor last night's meeting was covered under the open meetings law.
The city held the meetings last night at Kapolei Middle School and Tuesday night at the Blaisdell Center to lay out the scope of a proposed mass project and to present information on four transit options including rail. The rail option also outlined four routes between Kapolei and the University of Hawaii.
The other purpose of the meeting was to collect comments from members of the public on their mass transit ideas and also their reaction to the four options being considered.
Instead of the submitting testimony in a traditional public meeting forum verbally at a microphone or in writing, attendees last night were asked to give their comments one-on-one to a court reporter or by filling out blue comment sheets that were later placed in boxes marked for the comments.
On Tuesday night, several open boxes were on tables. Last night, one box was available and it was covered except for a small opening at the top so people could deposit their comments.
A city transportation official said that the box was covered last night to prevent the Star-Bulletin from again looking inside.
On Tuesday night, as a reporter was reviewing the public comment sheets that were placed in one box, an official took the box away to another table.
Brennan said the issue is not whether the sheets are public -- because they are -- the issue is when the sheets would be available for public review.
"It seems to me that you're demanding to see these things both last night and again tonight, right? Because you think we're required to furnish you them at your demand," Brennan said. "We are not. Well, we are not by law required to furnish those on demand," he said.
Reading from an e-mail sent by Corporation Counsel Carrie Okinaga, Brennan said, the city is not required to turn over public documents "instantaneously."
"(The Uniform Information Practices Act) sets forth what documents are public and those which are not," Brennan said.
"And just because a document is held by the government does not mean it or its contents are automatically public. We do not know what is in the comment box and while we may guess that most of the contents will be public, we do not know that until we review them."
Brennan said he doesn't know if there's been a determination on when those documents would be available for public review.
"It would be after we review them," Brennan said.
Community leaders were mixed on whether it would be helpful to see the comments from the two nights.
City Councilman Nestor Garcia, who represents Makakilo, Waipahu and parts of Mililani, said that eventually he as well as the other members of the Council would want to see the public comment sheets.
"Hopefully we'll get a chance to look them over," Garcia said.
"I'll make it a point to make sure that we get a chance to see the comments. Not just the flavor, the unsanitized version," Garcia said.
State Rep. Kymberly Pine (R, Ewa Beach-Iriquois Point) said: "I think it would be nice to have."
Ewa Beach resident Tesha Malama, a former neighborhood board member, said that at this stage knowing the public response is not as important as gathering the comments.
"Nah, not at this point," Malama said.
The information from the meetings is being gathered for a report that will analyze the different transit options that also include a "no build" option, high occupancy toll lanes and enhanced bus and Zipper Lane operations.
Malama was among several people who said that it would've been better if there was a general overview given first and then people allowed to go around and ask questions and seek more information at the individual display stations and consultants set up around the school cafeteria.
"For people who kind of just came to make a stink at the place, I think it accomplished cutting down on that kind of stuff," Malama said.
City Managing Director Jeff Coelho said that the format of the meeting was designed to collect as many comments as possible.