Panels keep public in dark on closed-door meetings
A right-to-know group could not get more than half of 55 sets of minutes of executive session meetings requested from 28 state and county boards.
The 2007 Freedom of Information Compliance Audit checked whether government agencies are complying with state open-records laws that require them to disclose information from executive sessions, which are closed to the public.
While boards can meet in private to discuss confidential matters, carry out evaluations and consider the hiring or firing of an employee, among other things, they need to make minutes of those meetings available to the public within 30 days. Some portions of the minutes can still be redacted.
The group of media representatives and the League of Women Voters of Hawaii began asking for the documents in July.
Of 55 requests it made, the group got only 25 sets of minutes from 11 state and 17 county boards. Fifteen requests were denied, four agencies misunderstood what was being asked and four others needed more time to respond, the group said.
"Unfortunately, some government bodies surveyed failed to release the minutes of those closed-door meetings, thus fostering suspicions and undermining public trust in public agencies," said Beverly Keever, a journalism professor at the University of Hawaii and co-chairwoman of the project.
The state's Office of Information Practice also found nine of 15 denials lacked an explanation for withholding the minutes.
State Sen. Les Ihara, a proponent of open government, said many agencies do not understand the open-records laws. Ihara (D, Kaimuki-Palolo) has unsuccessfully introduced bills to give OIP more enforcement power and to have state agencies hire a worker to deal with public-records requests.
"There were a number of denials that were improper. They just said you can't read it," Ihara said.
Among other findings of the audit:
» A review of 25 executive session minutes showed that 12 were adequate.
» Ten sets of minutes had insufficient detail and failed to explain what happened in the meeting.
» Of 172 agendas analyzed, 60 had improper open-ended items, including 24 without names of applications of nominees to be considered.
» Thirty-seven agendas from 24 boards were not posted six days in advance as required by law.
Media organizations that worked on the audit included the Hawaii chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, the Honolulu Community-Media Council and the Big Island Press Club.