Council panel votes to keep closed doors shut
A resolution passed by a City Council committee yesterday bars councilmembers from disclosing information from a closed-door meeting but does not include any penalty for a violation.
The resolution, to be voted on by the full Council at a later date, was introduced after Councilman Rod Tam filed an ethics complaint against fellow Councilman Charles Djou. Tam argued Djou violated state ethics law when he disclosed details on a pending lawsuit to the news media for his personal political gain.
The resolution by Council Chairwoman Barbara Marshall would create the prohibition unless two-thirds of the Council votes to waive the confidentiality or law requires the disclosure.
The Executive Matters Committee voted 7-2, with Djou and Donovan Dela Cruz objecting to the measure.
"I don't think (this resolution) is necessary," Dela Cruz said at the committee meeting. "What we're saying if we pass this rule is that we don't trust each other."
The original resolution would have penalized councilmembers who disclose details from executive session by banning them from future closed-door meetings. However, the Executive Matters Committee removed that provision.
"We do need to have some explicit provision for confidentiality," Marshall said. "If you're in disagreement, the appropriate time to bring it up is in the executive session so everybody can vote."
On April 18, at the Council's Executive Matters Committee executive session, councilmembers and attorneys discussed details of a lawsuit settlement on sewer force mains with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The full agreement, requiring the city to fix and back up crucial sewer pipes, was released publicly a few weeks later.
"For me, if you walk in that door, it has to be confidential," said Councilman Gary Okino.
Djou said he did not contact the media, but simply responded to questions posed by a reporter inquiring about the lawsuit.
"I answered the questions," Djou said. "We're talking about $300 million of taxpayers' dollars, and they have a right to know how their money is being spent."
Discussion focused on taxpayers' right to know versus the confidentiality and trust in an executive session to protect the city.
"It's a redundant and unnecessary bill," said Djou. "All of us who are members of the Honolulu City Council are adults, and we can make our own decisions. Our employers are each and every one of our voters. I don't need Barbara Marshall telling me what I can and cannot do as a city councilman."