Open-info office could face oversight
Open-government backers call bills a move to strip power
The chairmen of the four County Councils are supporting creation of a five-member commission to oversee the state Office of Information Practices, which they say affords agencies no appeals process and gives its executive director too much power.
But open-government advocates are skeptical of the push, which was introduced to the state Legislature in companion bills this week, calling it a possible move to strip the OIP of its powers.
"This bill would strip the powers and duties that help citizens secure government records from a legal expert to a five-member (board) of volunteers appointed without any required expertise in an area of the law," said Beverly Keever, a University of Hawaii at Manoa journalism professor and a longtime open-government advocate.
Honolulu City Council Chairman Donovan Dela Cruz disagreed, saying, "I think everyone has noted that some of the opinions that OIP has published are extreme. It's just one individual that interprets the law versus a group of people. And there's no one to appeal to."
In a statement released yesterday, Big Island County Council Chairman Stacy Higa added that the commission would "help establish balance between the open-meetings law and the ability of the legislative body to perform the people's business."
Senate President Robert Bunda and House Speaker Calvin Say introduced Senate Bill 2657 and House Bill 2985 on Wednesday from requests of the County Council chairmen to establish the so-called Board of Information Practices, which would be similar to the campaign spending and ethics commissions, according to the bills.
The bill comes as the City Council is fighting an OIP opinion that said Council members cannot have private, one-on-one discussions on a topic before a public vote. On Wednesday the Circuit Court affirmed the agency's opinion.
OIP issues legal opinions on access to public records and open meetings.
OIP staff attorney Lorna Aratani said the office is "neutral" on the bill, but added that Executive Director Les Kondo might submit testimony if the bill progresses. Kondo was out of town yesterday and could not be reached for comment.
The bill says the board's members would be chosen by the governor from a list of nominees. The commission would have the power to appoint and remove the office's executive director, now a function of the Governor's Office. It also would issue opinions and hear appeals.
State Sen. Les Ihara, also a longtime proponent of open government, said he would support the creation of a commission if the office were given more funding and "enforcement powers" to file lawsuits against agencies on its own. The state attorney general's office now must file lawsuits on behalf of OIP.