Transit meeting going public
Experts chosen to pick the design of the new rail system will take public testimony
A panel of experts selecting the technology for the city's $3.8 billion mass transit system will open its meetings to the public, the city decided last week amid concerns from lawmakers that this critical decision would be made behind closed doors.
In a letter Friday to the state Office of Information Practices, Donna Woo, the city's deputy corporation counsel, said the city still believes the panel does not have to abide by the Sunshine Law, but is choosing to do so to remain open and transparent.
"It's a good compromise," said City Councilman Nestor Garcia, also chairman of the Council's Transportation Committee. "Because this is such a high-profile project, that should allay some of the concerns people have that a deal might be struck behind closed doors."
Cathy Takase, an OIP staff attorney, said OIP always took the stance that it believes the panel would be subjected to the state's open-meeting laws. The city's Corporation Counsel argued that the panel was created by a resolution, which is not explicitly covered by the Sunshine Law.
The City Council asked OIP in late January to issue an opinion, which would have had no enforcement power, on the panel. However, since the city agreed to abide by the Sunshine Law, OIP no longer has to do so.
The city had said the panel would be able to have more open and frank discussions because the decision involves reviewing proprietary material from 11 companies on four types of technology -- steel wheel on steel rail, a magnetic levitation system, a monorail or a rubber-tire vehicle on concrete -- for the route running from Kapolei to Ala Moana.
"It kind of defeats the whole usefulness of the process to have that dialogue," said Wayne Yoshioka, the city's transportation director. "But because of all the concerns, that's the best way we can handle this."
Several state and city lawmakers who objected to the panel's private meetings said they were relieved to hear of the open meetings but still had some concerns, such as the public not being able to testify.
"I applaud their efforts to have open decisions," said Sen. Gary Hooser (D, Kauai-Niihau), who introduced a bill because of the technology panel calling for any committee making decisions affecting procurement to be subjected to the Sunshine Law.
"While I think this is a nice small step, I don't think it goes far enough," said City Councilman Charles Djou. "Even if they are voluntarily complying with the Sunshine act, they can stop complying at the same time."
The panel, which consists of four mainland transit experts and University of Hawaii-Manoa engineering professor Panos Prevedouros, will meet at 8:30 a.m. Friday at Mission Memorial Auditorium next to Honolulu Hale.
The city plans to have the panel meet again on Feb. 21 or 22 to make its decision.
The city is paying each panelist $175 an hour -- budgeting about $20,000 per member and $30,000 for its chairman, Ron Tober, a former general manager of several rail transit systems, who will come back once more to Honolulu to present the panel's report to the City Council.
Set to meet
The public is invited to the first meeting of the panel of experts selecting the technology for the city's $3.8 billion fixed-guideway system:
» 8:30 a.m. Friday at the Mission Memorial Auditorium next to Honolulu Hale on South King Street
» Public is allowed to comment for up to a minute each
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
The public is allowed to comment for one minute each at a meeting Friday before a panel of experts selecting the technology for the fixed-guideway system. Originally, this story incorrectly said there would be no public testimony.