Sunshine Law is on the line this year

The national election is coming to a heated conclusion. Barack Obama vs. John McCain. How will it turn out?

Both parties raised the issue of experience. The McCain camp claimed Obama is inexperienced. The Obama camp claim McCain is experienced in the Bush rhetoric. Both camps made reform an issue. Does experience really matter in the presidential race? Both candidates will undoubtedly find the best advisors to advise them on any subject matter he will encounter during his presidency. How many presidents of the United States had experience as a president of the United States before he became the president of the United States? Not one.

Kaua‘i politics is more in line with rhetoric. Almost the same issues are raised by the mayoral and County Council candidates for at least the last 10 years: development, affordable housing, landfill, traffic congestion, etc., etc.

Interestingly, sustainability is getting top billing after the cost of our energy is going through the roof. This top billing will only be as good as lip-service if no credible action is taken by those whom we entrust to represent us, the people.

Every election as far in the past as I can remember, the elected officials promised you action on these rhetorical issues. The next election, they will promise you the same action, and the next election, more of the same. If they fulfilled their promises, the same issue should not resurface. Take our landfill issue for example. If credible action was taken when the issue first surfaced, we, the people would not have to pay the exorbitant amount now just to expand our landfill. We should already have an alternative solid waste solution implemented and working.

Neither the County Council nor the executive branch of our government are taking responsibility. I hope neither is saying it is the people’s fault.

The 2008 election is encrusted with promises of change. Action will be taken the candidates will promise you. How will you know whom to believe?

For me, I believe in history. I can remember the incumbent council members’ actions and inactions by way of the televised council meetings and decided on whom I can believe in. I, of course, like most residents of Kaua‘i, do not have time to watch every minute and every single council session, but I watched a few. The most prominent issue which boggles my mind is the issue of Sunshine Law, Chapter 92 of the Hawaii Revised Statutes.

The state Sunshine Law was written to ensure openness in government. It is written to ensure the people’s right to know what our representatives are doing to represent us, the people.

Over a year ago, I remember watching Glenn Mickens bring to the attention of the council the Kauai County Charter Section 3.07E. This section of the County Charter gave authority to the County Council to have closed door meetings (executive sessions) to consult with the County Attorney only on claims. The word “claims” is defined by our County Charter. Mickens related that the General Provision of Chapter 92, more specifically HRS 92-71, mandated the application of more openness via the authority of the County Charter. In other words, if 3.07E requires more openness than the state Sunshine Law, 3.07E must be an additional requirement to the open meeting of the Kauai County Council. The council effortlessly ignored Mickens’ notice and proceeds with executive sessions, exceeding the authority given by law for over a year.

After a court hearing in the early months of 2008 on a lawsuit filed by two prominent residents of Kaua‘i for executive session minutes, 3.07E began to appear on council executive session agendas. Did Glenn Mickens prevail?

The council last week read and interpreted a letter from the state Office of Information Practices that the council was in compliance with the Sunshine Law. One member of the council suggested that the people can sue the council if the people think the council is wrong. Needless to say, the council received an opinion by OIP in 2005 concerning an executive session investigating the police department. OIP stated the council was wrong to hold an executive session on that issue. The council decided it was not in their interest at that time to accept OIP’s opinion and used the taxpayers’ money to file a lawsuit against OIP.

Our County Charter was voted on by the people of Kaua‘i and became effective on Jan. 2, 1969, some 40 years ago.

There were no challenges to 3.07E by the elected or appointed officials until this coming election. An amendment will be put on the ballot to rescind the 40-year charter language in 3.07E in favor of more closed-door meetings of the council. I would caution the voter to please understand what the charter amendment recommends. To comply with the state Sunshine Law and rescind 3.07E means to give more authority to our council to deliberate and conduct people’s business behind closed doors.

This brings me to this logical conclusion concerning the coming election: If the candidates truly represent the people, they will not hesitate to support Charter Section 3.07E. If the candidate’s campaign favors the state Sunshine Law and does not include our Charter 3.07E, this candidate wants to deliberate more meetings behind closed doors.

Whom do you want to represent you? A candidate who will open his actions to praise or criticism by his/her constituents or a candidate who wants the constituents to know only what he/she wants you to know?

I know whom I will vote for. It is the candidate who will take praise or criticism. That candidate has self confidence to be my representative as mayor or council member.

• K.C. Lum is a resident of ‘Ele‘ele, a former police chief and was a candidate for County Council in 2006.

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