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Wednesday, March 1, 2000

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Hawaiians should
focus on sovereignty

Bullet The issue: The U.S. Supreme Court decision in Rice vs. Cayetano has created an uproar in the Hawaiian community.

Bullet Our view: Hawaiians should focus on finding a common position on sovereignty in response to the U.S. Supreme Court decision.

Former Gov. John Waihee, who was one of the key figures in the creation of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs through his leadership at the 1978 state Constitutional Convention, which approved the amendment establishing OHA, had some sensible observations about the uproar caused by the Supreme Court's decision in Rice vs. Cayetano.

Waihee met with the beleaguered OHA trustees and other Hawaiian leaders. After declaring that he believed the Supreme Court decision ruling unconstitutional the Hawaiians-only voting restriction in OHA elections was wrong, the ex-governor said, "What's left now is for the Hawaiian community to look for ways of becoming self-governing."

This -- not an attempt by the trustees to remain in office after the Supreme Court has nullified their election -- may be the wisest course of action for the Hawaiian community. The Supreme Court seemed to suggest that a semi-autonomous Hawaiian entity comparable to an Indian nation might be free to restrict voting to its members, although OHA, as a state agency, could not.

How Hawaiians could achieve this status isn't clear, but any plan presumably would require congressional approval. The most formidable immediate obstacle is the division among Hawaiian activists on the sovereignty issue. Unless a consensus can be reached on the form sovereignty should take, nothing can be accomplished.

There have been several comments that the Rice vs. Cayetano decision could be the catalyst for a more determined effort to forge unity on the sovereignty question. The strongly adverse initial reaction to the ruling suggests that might be true. However, the momentum could be easily lost if the bickering among Hawaiian groups resumes.

This could also be the result of a misguided focus on trying to preserve the positions of the OHA trustees, which seems likely to be futile.

Governor Cayetano may have spoken prematurely in announcing his decision, based on an opinion of the attorney general, to appoint replacements for the eight elected trustees because their positions have been nullified by the Supreme Court. However, claims that the governor is trying to seize control of OHA are irresponsible. He is simply doing his duty and we expect him to prevail eventually.

The trustees' decision to retain the law firm of McCorriston Miho Miller and Mukai is reminiscent of the battle over the trustees of the former Bishop Estate, now Kamehameha Schools. The same firm represented the former Bishop Estate trustees in their unsuccessful fight to retain their positions.

It would be unfortunate for the Hawaiian community if the OHA trustees took the same unyielding stance as the Bishop Estate trustees and wasted OHA's resources -- which are dedicated to the welfare of Hawaiians -- on futile legal activity.

Open meetings

Bullet The issue: Kauai's mayor has decided upon a secretive process to obtain advice about the county's solid waste disposal system.

Bullet Our view: County residents should insist on a more open procedure.

KAUAI County is acting with unusual secrecy in its procedure of creating a new solid waste disposal system. The mayor has appointed a committee to advise county officials on this matter, but won't divulge who is on the committee. The committee will meet in unannounced and closed sessions. County residents have a right to ask what's going on.

Mayor Maryanne Kusaka appointed the nine-member advisory committee to advise officials about steps to be taken after the existing Kekaha landfill reaches capacity in three years. The committee apparently will make recommendations regarding bids for a new waste disposal system.

It is an open question whether a committee used entirely in an advisory function that takes no official action is exempt from the state's open-meetings law.

Keeping secret the names of the panel members is another matter. John Cole, an attorney with the state Office of Information Practices, says a 1995 opinion rendered by his office says that the names of unpaid consultants to a government office are supposed to be a matter of record, open to the public.

Kusaka's press aide says the mayor's only reason for cloaking the process in secrecy is "to protect the committee members from being lobbied." The mayor may be within her rights in ordering that meetings be closed, but she is going too far by withholding the names of committee members.

More disturbing than the fine points of what constitutes violation of the sunshine law is Kusaka's approach.

Rather than finding a way to reach a fair decision in an open process, she has chosen to close the doors to government where she finds it convenient. That is not the spirit in which public officials should view the open-meetings law.

Published by Liberty Newspapers Limited Partnership

Rupert E. Phillips, CEO

John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

David Shapiro, Managing Editor

Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

Frank Bridgewater & Michael Rovner, Assistant Managing Editors

A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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