Kim and Council catch heat
HILO » The Big Island Press Club has given its annual dishonorable Lava Tube Award to Big Island Mayor Harry Kim and the Hawaii County Council for holding a meeting last year behind locked doors without public notice to discuss a lava threat to the lower Puna area.
The club said Kim, long noted for his support of open government, "stumbled badly" in asking the Council for the unpublicized meeting.
Yesterday Kim agreed with the club, saying he showed "bad judgment" in calling the Aug. 22 meeting. His admission was the first time in the 11-year history of the Lava Tube Awards that a recipient agreed with the club.
Council Chairman Pete Hoffmann disagreed. "We didn't do anything wrong," he said.
Although lava is now flowing safely to the sea west of Kalapana, last August it was flowing inland, threatening at a minimum to cut Highway 130 and isolate about 10,000 residents.
"Rumors were flying. I've got to mitigate the rumors," Kim said.
Kim checked with two county lawyers and both gave him the green light to give an unpublicized briefing to the Council, he said. The lawyers' opinions were the basis for Hoffmann saying the Council did no wrong.
The locking of the door to the meeting was a mistake by a staff member, Kim said.
The press club noted that Kim is not bound by the state Sunshine Law, but the Council is. The law says, "It is the policy of this state that the formation and conduct of public policy -- the discussions, deliberations, decisions and action of government agencies -- shall be conducted as openly as possible."
The county lawyers argued that the Sunshine Law did not apply because there was no legislation regarding the lava pending before the council.
In seeking an opinion from the state Office of Information Practices, the club noted that a 1997 ruling by Circuit Judge Marie Milks said undisclosed "briefings" -- in that case for the state Board of Land and Natural Resources -- were illegal. The Office of Information Practices opinion is still pending.
Besides the Lava Tube Award, the club gave a dishonorable mention to the University of Hawaii at Hilo for allowing a CIA recruiter to ban photography in a public meeting, to the university Board of Regents for discussing documents at a public meeting but keeping the documents secret from the public, and to the state Legislature for continuing to exempt itself from any open meeting law.
The club gave its positive Torch of Light Award to Les Kondo for his guidance of the Office of Information Practices in 2002-2006.