The state Office of Information Practices has rendered an opinion that Ho’ike Community TV must open up its records to public scrutiny because Ho’ike is owned, operated or managed on behalf of the state.
The Kaua’i League of Women Voters and Carol Bain, a Kaua’i County Council candidate in this election year, said they sought the opinion after witnessing major by-law changes at Ho’ike board meetings, and an increased use of executive sessions to exclude public participation in Ho’ike meetings.
Bain hailed the OIP opinion as a victory for people seeking improved public access to government records and data, as a way to improve government services.
“This means that records, financial, minutes and all organizational records are opened to the public, just like the Kaua’i County records,” Bain said.
But Rowena Cobb, a board member of Ho’ike , said the organization’s “records have always been opened. Our minutes are on the Web site (www. hoike.org) almost immediately.”
“The Web site was there before I came on board five years ago,” Cobb said. “It is something that is used by the public, and she (Bain) has been privy to it also. The Web site has been available to anyone.”
Bain has raised the issue of more public access to government records at many county meetings this year.
The OIP drew praise from Jeff Garland, president of the Community Television Producers Association, and Scott Foster, director of communications for Hawai’i’s Advocates for Consumer Rights.
Garland said the opinion has “implications far beyond just PEG (public, education and government) access,” and will halt the practice of using “private organizations do to government’s work without scrutiny.”
Foster said the complexity of the issue has worked in favor of those “who have had a near-absolute control over millions of public funds at several of Hawai’i’s P.E.G. community access television organizations.” The OIP opinion will usher an end to this situation, Foster indicated.
As part of the OIP decision, Wendy Arbeit, president of The Community Television Producers Association on Oahu in 1998, asked whether ‘Olelo, the Corporation for Community Television, is a state agency or a quasi public body.
In 2001, the League of Women Voters of Kaua’i, represented by Bain, now a past president of the organization, asked OIP to reconsider its opinion that Ho’ike, Kaua’i Community Television Inc. was not subject to the requirements of the state’s Uniform Information Practices Act.
Ho’ike provides telecast meetings of the Kaua’i County Council, the Kaua’i County Planning Commission and the Kaua’i County Police Commission.
In a Sept. 6 statement to Bain and Arbeit, the OIP said the director of the state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs required, as the local franchising authority, a cable franchise to set aside public, educational and governmental access channels.
OIP noted that while Ho’ike and ‘Olelo currently operate as corporations, they were originally created by the state agency and are funded almost entirely by the state agency under state law.
OIP found that although the state agency has not exercised close administrative control of Ho’ike and ‘Olelo, the agency still controls the organizations through its appointments.
The agency also can remove a majority of the appointees of the boards of those corporations because they receive funds administered by the state.
Each year Oceanic Cablevision, a local cable company sets aside $300,0000, about three percent of its profits, to Ho’ike, Bain said. The state agency then allocates the funds to Ho’ike.
OIP also found that the state agency has indirect control of Ho’ike and ‘Olelo through contractural agreements.
League of Women Voters president Carol White, in a news release, said the League may join others in a call for a state audit of access corporations across Hawai’i. White said she would like the state auditor to examine the books of Ho’ike.
Bain also said the OIP has been asked to look at the issue of whether Ho’ike will once again allow the public to attend its board meetings and whether meetings will be announced in advance.
Bain said the board changed it bylaws Sept. 7, 2001, to “eliminate many aspects of the open meeting.”
“The board members are volunteers and they are nice guys, but they have lost track of their responsiveness to the public,” Bain said. “They don’t realize that these services (of Ho’ike) will improve with feedback from people attending the meetings once again.”
Staff writer Lester Chang can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) and email@example.com