Council squabble is serious business
A proposal would penalize Council members who reveal executive session matters.
CITY Council chairwoman Barbara Marshall has proposed a rule she says is needed to discourage members from disclosing sensitive matters the Council takes up behind closed doors.
The issue arose when member Charles Djou publicly discussed a tentative settlement between the federal government and the city about fixing Honolulu's sewer lines before the agreement had been formally accepted by the Council.
Though the episode sounds like political squabbling, it is, as Marshall says, "a very serious issue." Djou's breach did not jeopardize the settlement, but confidential means confidential. While we remain strong advocates of government openness, we agree there are rare occasions when discretion is prudent, and in this case, the settlement was to be made public anyway.
That said, Marshall's proposal does have serious problems. It would bar an offending Council member from executive sessions, an exclusion that would deny some voters representation. The proposal doesn't specify how long the member would be excluded, nor how the ban would be enforced.
The plan also would permit the Council to remove a matter from executive session by a two-thirds vote or by court order. The latter is not necessary because a court order would override the Council's authority anyway; the former should be a simple majority vote.
Djou said he spoke to news reporters because the settlement involved $300 million in taxpayer money and that he should be able to decide for himself what he will publicly discuss. However, the Council is an assembly of nine, not a sole-source entity.
Before being elected, Marshall was a longtime TV news reporter. Her experiences should give her a good perspective, and with some reworking, her proposal could open more shuttered doors when warranted.
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