UH regents conceal budget papers
University of Hawaii regents held what would normally be a routine informational briefing yesterday, except that much of the information was kept secret.
Construction funds sought
The University of Hawaii is proposing $359 million in construction spending and $30 million in additional operating money in the supplemental budget year, UH President David McClain told regents yesterday.
The proposed UH budget request is scheduled to be discussed and approved by the regents next month and submitted to the governor and the Legislature.
McClain verbally covered some of the budget highlights yesterday, saying that about $99 million from the construction or capital improvement project budget would go toward repair and maintenance of, and health and safety improvements for, aging UH buildings.
Under a new policy, which regents said they would re-examine next month, members of the public who wanted to see budget documents were told to fill out a written form and that the documents would be made available up to 10 days after the board approves the budget request to the Legislature.
J.N. Musto, executive director of the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly, strongly objected.
"We're not talking about national secrets here," Musto told the board. He questioned how the public could let regents know what they think about the budget proposal if they cannot see the details of what is in it.
The faculty union might sue the university or seek a change in the law if the policy is upheld, Musto said.
Darolyn Lendio, the university general counsel, cited the "deliberative process privilege" in withholding the budget documents, which included UH President David McClain's recommendations to the regents and the budget priorities for each campus.
Citing an Office of Information Practices manual, Lendio said the privilege allows an agency to "withhold recommendations, draft documents, proposals, suggestions and other opinion materials that comprise part of the process by which the agency formulates its decisions and policies."
Withholding the information encourages "the uninhibited exchange of ideas, recommendations and opinions," she said.
Some of the budget documents are online even though they were not available at the meeting.
During a similar budget meeting last year, UH administrators prepared a PowerPoint presentation that projected information onto a screen so that anyone at the meeting could see what was being discussed.
This year, when McClain talked about the budget, he referred to documents the regents and UH administrators could see but the public could not.
"Take a look at tab E," McClain told the regents. "These are the current campus priorities."
Office of Information Practices staff attorney Lorna Aritani said the deliberative privilege -- withholding of documents during deliberations -- is spelled out in opinion letters.
But she said it does not allow for a blanket withholding of all documents.
Factual information that is not opinion must be disclosed, she said.
"We would hope that because they are deciding in public, that they would waive (the privilege)," she said. "They are not required to keep (information) confidential."
The regents also need to justify how withholding information will affect the quality of their decision making, Aritani said. Talking in detail about the information in public might negate the privilege, she said.