BOE defying state, attorney on disclosure
Members point to conflicting advice from the attorney general
The Board of Education is defying not only a state office, but also going against the opinion of the attorney general by withholding details surrounding the firing of the executive director of the Charter School Administrative Office.
Both the Office of Information Practices and state Attorney General Mark Bennett say public-meeting laws in Hawaii require the board to disclose how individual board members voted when James Shon was dismissed Sept. 7 in a closed-door meeting.
Bennett has assisted the board on how it should respond to an OIP decision issued last month that instructed the board to reveal "the motions made and the votes cast by individual members."
But despite agreeing that the votes should be released, Bennett declined to say yesterday whether he told the board to comply with the request.
"Of course, I'm not allowed to share that legal advice," he said, "because that's confidential."
Asked why the board is refusing to follow the law, board Chairman Randall Yee said it was a decision he reached with Vice Chairmen Herbert Watanabe and Karen Knudsen, both of whom agreed to schedule a closed-door meeting Nov. 14 so the entire board could have a say on whether to make the information public.
"Even though OIP is telling us to release, collectively as a board we still have to agree about what we are going to do," Yee said yesterday.
Right-to-know advocates have argued the board made an effort to conceal the documents until after Tuesday's general election. Some charter school leaders have said the information would have allowed them to retaliate at the polls against board members who ousted Shon.
But Knudsen, a longtime board member who won re-election, said the board became confused when it was given conflicting advice from Bennett.
According to Knudsen, after OIP issued its opinion on Oct. 30, Bennett told the board to wait before making the redacted minutes available, because he worried some of the material was privileged. But after receiving a letter from OIP saying that the board "must immediately" release the votes, Knudsen said Bennett told the board to comply.
"He is the one now who's saying that we should have released it," Knudsen said.
"To me it was just muddy, the whole thing," she added. "When we meet with the AG, we just need really clear guidance."
Agencies have historically been able to ignore the Office of Information Practices because it lacks enforcement power, said Director Les Kondo.
Two bills that were killed in the last legislative session would have allowed OIP to either fine noncomplying agencies or take them to court. State Sen. Les Ihara, a proponent of open government, said he planned to reintroduce the measures in the coming session.
Despite recent efforts by several organizations to publicize the state Sunshine Law, Ihara said many agencies remain unaware of citizens' right to access public records.