Public involvement is the best course of action

Tonight, residents have an opportunity to hear about “How to Have a Voice in County Government.” Councilmember JoAnn Yukimura is hosting the public workshop at Ha Coffee Bar from 6 to 8:30 p.m.

“My hope is that the public will learn through this workshop how to make democracy work in their community and gain the tools to become more effective citizens,” Yukimura in press release.

Those tools include learning how a bill becomes a law; how to obtain information about bills and resolutions before the Kauai County Council; how to submit written testimony and how to present oral testimony.

It’s always a good thing when the public gets involved in their government. It’s a good thing when our government leaders are as transparent as possible and do their best to keep the people part of the very things that affect their daily lives.

We commend Yukimura for hosting the workshop and encourage people to take time out of their schedules to stop by.

Along those lines of proposing public involvement and encouraging transparency over secrecy, we believe it would be best if the meetings of the feral cats bill drafting committee were open to the public, rather than closed as they are now.

The committee has been meeting for a little more than a year, and always behind closed doors. As The Garden Island previously reported, it is a group that Yukimura convened to help direct the formulation of a feral cats bill she intends to introduce to the County Council.

Basil Scott, president of the Kauai Community Cat Project, is one of the nine committee members. He said the committee has representation from bird and other nature conservancy groups. Yukimura said the Kauai Humane Society has representation on the committee, but would not provide the names of the committee members, or say where or when the committee meets.

Yukimura said the committee’s meetings aren’t subject to the Sunshine Law, which applies to governmental agencies and their decision-making process.

“To help me do effective problem solving, people need to feel safe to brainstorm and raise out-of-the-box ideas,” Yukimura said. “If the press were present, they would hesitate.”

First, let’s applaud this committee for seeking a solution to a significant problem on Kauai. We appreciate their efforts and desire to reduce the feral cat population. We would love to hear about their proposed solutions.

It’s best for our government leaders to be open to public input at all levels. Because input on this proposal is, for now, being limited to a select group, it makes one wonder how balanced and objective the proposal will be when it finally comes out.

One could argue the public is being kept out of the loop now to limit response time. Most people on this island are busy working and raising families. They should be given as much information as possible, and every opportunity to be involved, on a subject that affects this entire island.

Members of this committee shouldn’t only feel comfortable brainstorming and sharing ideas behind closed doors. Members of this committee are most likely bright and knowledgeable about feral cats and have intelligent things to say and have terrific proposals the public would like to hear.

If committee members are fearful of speaking with the media present, if they’re afraid to have the public hear their ideas on how to deal with the island’s feral cats, it makes you wonder if these are extreme, drastic ideas.

That’s likely not the case. This committee is probably working on a sound solution. But because its meetings are closed, the media and the public are only left to wonder.

The very fact that this committee is studying the feral cat situation is a sign of how important this issue is to the island. Involving more people sooner, rather than later, makes sense.

We agree with Yukimura that the public should do its best to learn how to be effective citizens.

And we think they should be given that chance and sit in on the meetings of the feral cat committee.

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