Earth To Maui Residents: County Council Members Have Long Hated The Sunshine Law

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So it looks like open meeting lawsuits against the Maui County Council are becoming a regular thing. On Aug. 19, according to this story (subscription required) in today’s Maui News, some Ka’anapali timeshare owners associations filed suit against the county saying “a Sunshine Law violation occurred when council members considered property tax rates for fiscal 2014.”

As expected, this new lawsuit cites the Aug. 8 Hawaii Supreme Court ruling in the Sunshine Law case Daniel Kanahele vs. Maui County, in which the high court found that a county council committee had violated the state’s open meetings law by circulating written memos that weren’t properly noticed to residents.

The only thing surprising about the latest case is that there aren’t more of them coming to light. Members of the Maui County Council–usually the chairpersons, in fact–have long complained about the state Open Meeting Law’s requirements and have long called for getting rid of the mandates that they meet in public:

• In 2005, Maui County Councilmember Riki Hokama called on the state Legislature to exempt the council from the Open Meetings law. “[T]he Sunshine Law detracts from the effectiveness of county councils in carrying out their legislative responsibilities,” he said at the time, which drew immediate and substantial opposition from residents and officials across the island. “What the council chair and associates are proposing is to move us toward efficiency at the expense of the community’s right to know and ability to speak out,” Mayor Alan Arakawa said at the time in a Maui News editorial.

• In early 2012, Maui County Council members Danny Mateo, Joseph Pontanilla, Bob Carroll and Mike White all wrote letters to the state House Judiciary Committee saying they supported HB 2742, which would have–you guessed it–exempted County Councils from the Sunshine Law. “[W]hen applied to an elected board like a county council, who has direct accountability to the electorate and a broad range of responsibilities, these same [Sunshine Law] interpretations unjustifiably interfere with the important legislative work of the County Council,” Mateo wrote. For that reason, Mateo added, “the State Legislature was wise to exempt itself from the Sunshine Law, and should give the same consideration to the county councils.” Needless to say, the bill went nowhere.

• In her bizarre post-Aug. 8 ruling press release, current Maui County Council Chairperson Gladys Baisa openly displayed her contempt for the open meetings law. “Though I have my issues with the Sunshine Law, the Council always goes beyond the call of duty to attempt to ensure we operate in full compliance, as can be seen in this opinion,” she said as though the court had not, in fact, smacked down the council.

Look, if Maui County Councilmembers don’t like a particular law, and aren’t shy about telling the public that, then that’s cool. They have a freedom of speech just the rest of us. But what they can’t do is let their opposition to a law that requires them to operate in the open allow them to slack off on adhering to that law, as these lawsuits seem to indicate.

Photo: gemteck1/Wikimedia Commons