Big Island Council
HILO » The Hawaii County Council should have let the public know it planned to review a proposed settlement of the so-called Hokulia lawsuit on March 1, the state Office of Information Practices has said in an opinion.
The office, which interprets compliance with openness requirements of the Sunshine Law, was responding to the Big Island Press Club, which said the Council violated the law.
The Hokulia lawsuit dealt with a challenge by Hawaiians and environmentalists to the $1 billion Hokulia residential project being built in Kona by 1250 Oceanside Partners. In 2003, Circuit Judge Ronald Ibarra ordered all work halted because the project was on agricultural land.
This spring, the parties worked out a settlement, and the Hawaii County Council had to sign off on it. But the Council did not post the item on its March 1 agenda on the theory that the county's portion of the settlement was not "major" and was therefore exempt from the Sunshine Law.
Responding to the Big Island Press Club, the Office of Information Practices said the specific issues affecting the county were indeed not major, but the overall settlement had "widespread legal ramifications" and "substantial financial consequences." Therefore, the public should have been informed about the March 1 review.
County attorney Lincoln Ashida said the agency's ruling will have no effect on the settlement, which has already been put into effect, because a few weeks after the March 1 meeting, the Council again approved the settlement as a kind of "insurance."