Hawaii Open Records Agency Lets Public Down07/13/2011
Editor's Note: This is the first of two columns on how Hawaii's open record law is being flaunted by government agencies and what the Legislature should do about it.
There's something terribly wrong in Hawaii when it comes to public records — and it's time something is done about it.
- The head of the Office of Information Practices was fired by Gov. Neil Abercrombie after issuing an opinion he didn't agree with. When Civil Beat and the Honolulu Star-Advertiser appealed his refusal to release the names of judicial nominees as she had said was required under the law, the new director said it would be "futile" to issue another opinion.
- The Honolulu Police Department has kept the names, salaries and job titles of its officers secret for about a year, even though the law clearly requires that such information be made public except when it involves current and former undercover officers. Mayor Peter Carlisle refuses even to address the issue.
In these cases, two of Hawaii's most powerful politicians essentially are saying: "Sue me." Their message to other government officials, including in their own agencies, is clear: "You don't have to listen to what the Office of Information Practices says."
Don't believe me?
The attitude is pervasive.
The Star-Advertiser recently reported that a University of Hawaii professor was told by the university's legal office that he couldn't see invoices for private attorneys — in other words, how the state was spending tax dollars. Then when the Office of Information Practices said the records should be public, the university said he would have to pay nearly $40,000 for copies.
The Office of Information Practices, the state agency charged with acting in the public interest and enforcing the state's open records law, is a paper tiger.