Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023 |
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A free democracy values transparency, ready access to information and open public dialogue. While decisions are made by a majority vote, the voice of the minority is to be ensured. In good government, light is shed on issues in free, fair hearings and discourse. Yet in my over two years as a member of the Kaua‘i County Council I have found that the legislative process as currently practiced on Kaua‘i falls far short of these fundamental democratic standards. Access to basic information is being censored, or released unfairly. Open dialogue and debate on vital issues is significantly stifled, and Council rules are often ignored, frequently misinterpreted and largely ineffective. Those of you who wonder why things don’t get done in County Government might be surprised by one of the reasons: no sunshine.
Since being elected to the Council I have discovered, to my dismay, that access to information is anything but democratic. In fact voters might be surprised to learn that even as a member of the Council, my access is strictly controlled. In a number of ways that will be outlined by Councilmember Kawahara, many documents intended for all Council Members are screened, delayed, or even withheld by the County Clerk. Some Council Members are given access to information that others are not. I found this situation intolerable and inexcusable. I requested and eventually demanded that the situation be corrected. And that simple forthright request has turned into a chain of secrecy and denials from the very officials responsible for making information available.
The County Clerk—who by adopted Council rules is required to “forward at once to the proper parties all communications and other matters “—refused to rectify the situation, telling me he needs direction from the Council Chair, who, by Council rules, supervises the Clerk. The Council Chair has repeatedly refused to address these concerns in any manner. When I was new on the Council the last thing I wanted was conflict with Council Chair Kaipo Asing, a man with 26 years of public service that I have long respected and admired. After two years of doing my best to work with him on these issues, I now think the voters and the general public deserve to know how business as usual at the Kaua‘i County Council is dysfunctional and leaves the public in the dark.
In addition to censorship and information favoritism, open dialogue and public debate is also being thwarted by the Council Chair. He refuses to place some councilmember’s items on the agenda. He does this despite the Council rule which states “any bill or resolution may be introduced by any member.” Another bedrock principal of democracy is equal access to open dialogue and fair public debate. If you can persuade the majority, then your issue is adopted, if not, so be it — but the crucial point is that the discussion is held and the minority has had a voice. Council rules state that the Council’s responsibility is to “carry out the majority view of the Council, yet provide the minority fair opportunity to express its view.” The Council Chair’s refusal to place all of the public’s key issues and proposals on the agenda is inappropriate. It is the opposite of the “fair opportunity” inherent in the notion of open government.
I believe these issues are very serious. In politics, access to information equates to power. Power and information by rights belong to the people who elected us and it should be available equally to all. If you believe that all Council members should have equal access to information, that the public should have convenient and ready access to public information, and that all the individuals you elected should have their proposals considered in an open and fair hearing, please write to your Council members and request that these issues be placed on the agenda and democratically decided. If a majority of the Council disagrees with the proposals so be it, but let’s not continue to censor the dialog.
E-mail can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. Mail can be sent to Council Services 4396 Rice Street Room 206, Lihu‘e, HI 96766. A more detailed discussion along with copies of documents, proposed bills and resolutions related to this issue can be accessed at www.kauaiinfo.org.
Editor’s Note: These guest viewpoints submitted to The Garden Island newspaper ran unedited.
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