Sunshine Law has plenty of holes
It was a normal week for the folks who either watch over or run elections in Hawaii. Nobody was talking.
The state elections commission just got a new chairman, William Marston, and one of his first acts last week was to go into executive session with the rest of the commission to pick a new chief elections officer.
The state chief elections officer is an important job. All the state laws regarding elections point to the chief elections officer as the person who makes the call on designing ballots, holding special elections, emergency powers -- it all goes through the chief elections officer.
The commissioners popped out of executive session to announce they were offering the job to -- somebody, specifically who they wouldn't say until the person agrees to take it.
The commissioners then dashed off to have a private lunch together. That's legal, too, as long as no one talks about elections commission business. But, of course, the private lunch is private, so you will have to ask the waiter if the commissioners talked about their candidate for elections officer.
I hope they left a big tip.
All that is legal under Hawaii's open meeting law, called the Sunshine Law.
It should be called the Sieve Law, because it is full of holes.
About 40 state boards and commissions were holding meetings around town last week, occupying the time of board members, commissioners and the public.
Well, sort of the public, for at least nine of those boards and commissions, a portion of the meeting was held in executive session.
The Real Estate Advisory Committee, the Land Use Commission (two meetings), the Board of Professional Engineers, Architects, Surveyors and Landscape Architects, the Board of Education, the Elections Commission, the Board of Public Accountancy, the Marketing Standing Committee of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, the Board of Medical Examiners and the Board of Acupuncture, all planned executive sessions, according to their posted agendas.
The Hawaii state law lists seven exemptions to allow executive sessions. The hole in the law is allowing private meetings for "attorney consultation," which opens it up for anything.
In keeping with the spirit of secretiveness, the state elections office right now is mulling over the selection of new election equipment, software and procedures to hold elections for the next 10 years.
That, thanks to a state law (HRS 103D-303), allows the entire process to be done without telling the public who is bidding, who is selecting the goods and how the bid discussions are going. But when the bid winner is determined, you will get to know who and what is counting next year's ballots.
In Hawaii, trust in government means, "Trust me, because we aren't telling."