A reader’s comment here yesterday suggested that any sunshine law concerns with the recent trip to Washington by at least five members of the Honolulu City Council had been addressed prior to the trip.
With respect to an earlier post about the trip to Washington, D.C and Denver, the Council created a Permitted Interaction Group to allow Councilmembers to talk about transit issues outside of regularly-posted meetings. If anyone wants to see the content of the resolution, then check with the City Clerk’s office for details.
At the time, I was surprised that it was necessary to pass a resolution to allow them to talk to each other, but now it’s obvious that there are people who have serious concerns about elected officials doing just this.
So what is a “permitted Interaction Group”? It’s a mechanism to allow certain kinds of discussions among two or more members of a public board, commission, or agency, in order to investigate a specific matter without violating the sunshine law.
The law provides, in part:
§92-2.5 Permitted interactions of members. (a) Two members of a board may discuss between themselves matters relating to official board business to enable them to perform their duties faithfully, as long as no commitment to vote is made or sought and the two members do not constitute a quorum of their board.
(b) Two or more members of a board, but less than the number of members which would constitute a quorum for the board, may be assigned to:
(1) Investigate a matter relating to the official business of their board; provided that:
(A) The scope of the investigation and the scope of each member’s authority are defined at a meeting of the board;
(B) All resulting findings and recommendations are presented to the board at a meeting of the board; and
(C) Deliberation and decisionmaking on the matter investigated, if any, occurs only at a duly noticed meeting of the board held subsequent to the meeting at which the findings and recommendations of the investigation were presented to the board; or
(2) Present, discuss, or negotiate any position which the board has adopted at a meeting of the board; provided that the assignment is made and the scope of each member’s authority is defined at a meeting of the board prior to the presentation, discussion or negotiation.
A couple of things to note.
First, the council could not legally create a permitted interaction group of five members because that would constitute a majority.
Second, while the council did pass Resolution 11-271 creating a permitted interaction group, it was limited to the visit of three members to Denver and did not make any reference at all to Washington.
BE IT RESOLVED by the Council of the City and County of Honolulu that a permitted interaction group composed of Councilmembers Ikaika Anderson, Romy Cachola, and Ann Kobayashi is hereby established and authorized to investigate, while the group is in Denver, Colorado, during the period from October 19, through
October 21, 2011, issues relating to the city’s rail project and transit oriented development, which relate to the official business of the council….
Perhaps there was another group created for the D.C. portion of the trip, but I wasn’t able to locate it.
Remember that the sunshine law specifically limits discussions and deliberations of the council to regular public meetings, and private discussions among a council majority, even while traveling or attending a conference, would appear to violate that basic intent of the law.
So it looks like those concerns about the sunshine law remain.