Category Archives: Sunshine

Investigative reporting center challenges University of Louisville Foundation secrecy

The Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting has been reporting on efforts to break through the secrecy surrounding the University of Louisville Foundation.

Like the University of Hawaii Foundation, it is a nonprofit organization that serves as the university’s fundraising arm.

KCIR reports that the state’s attorney general has issued several rulings that the foundation’s failure to provide certain records has violated the state’s public records law.

This is not an isolated case. Our newsroom has at least four other pending appeals related to U of L or the foundation’s failures to provide records.

The purpose of the Open Records Act is clear: Public records should be made available to the public quickly and expediently.

Nonetheless, when dealing with U of L and the foundation, it’s an adventure of interminable delays, obfuscation, missed deadlines and more. We are left with no options but to appeal to the attorney general. It’s become routine.

A Kentucky Supreme Court decision in 2008 affirmed that the foundation is a public agency, at least for purposes of the state’s public records law. The case involved a request for identifying information of some 47,000 persons who had contributed to the university through the foundation. The court held that the donor records are personal records, and then had to weigh the privacy interests of donors against the public interest in disclosure.

The public has a legitimate interest in the functions of the Foundation. ? As noted above, the Court of Appeals determined that the Foundation is a public agency within the meaning of the Open Records Act, and that ruling has not been disturbed by this Court. ? The Court of Appeals’ conclusion was predicated on the finding that the Foundation and the University essentially act as one and the same, and that the Foundation was established, created, and wholly controlled by the University. ? As a public institution that receives taxpayer dollars, the public certainly has an interest in the operation and administration of the University.

The Foundation’s stated goal is to advance the charitable and educational purposes of the University of Louisville. ? To this end, it solicits, receives, and spends money and other assets on behalf of the University. ? The public’s legitimate interest in the University’s operations then logically extends to the operations of the Foundation.

Moreover, the Courier-Journal has argued, and we agree, that certain donors may not simply wish to conceal their identities, but rather may wish to conceal the true purposes of their donations. ? Donors, particularly those making substantial gifts, may wish to influence the University’s decisions and policies, or to have some type of benefit conferred upon them by the University. ? The record supports this contention-several anonymous donors specifically indicated that their gifts were being made with the understanding that they would receive tickets to athletic functions. ? Accordingly, we agree that the public’s interest is particularly piqued by large donations from anonymous donors, and that a legitimate question of influence is raised by such circumstances. [case citations removed]

After reviewing the facts, the court ruled that all but 62 of the donors had to be disclosed. The 62 held exempt from disclosure had requested anonymity prior to the decision that the Foundation is subject to the state’s public records law and donors identities a matter of public record.

In Hawaii, I believe the status of the UH Foundation is still controversial. A 1997 opinion by the Office of Information Practices held that all donor information is exempt from disclosure, but I don’t think this issue has gone up to the Hawaii Supreme Court. At least such a case doesn’t appear in OIP’s listing of prior Hawaii court decisions.

What about the city’s new “smart” parking meters?

The city administration has been bragging on its plan to replace most of Honolulu’s parking meters with new “smart meters” that will take credit cards and provide increased security.

It looks like the Caldwell administration put out a press release on August 18 announcing plans to upgrade 1,000 parking meters around the city.

KHON reported:

Phase two of the city’s smart meter project includes replacing 333 existing smart meters with the latest model that accepts the chip cards. Another 676 coin meters will be updated as well. This will also add 51 new smart meters in Waikiki on Launiu Street and Kaiolu Streets which previously didn’t have any meters at all. When the city is finished with this second phase, all $1.50 per hour meters will accept credit cards.

“The smart meters except credit cards as well as coins, and they have larger screens that are easier to read. It also accepts the latest version of the EMV cards. The ones with the chip. So it provides better fraud protection, better safety and security for the customers,” said Mark Garrity of the city Department of Transportation Services.

The announcement came just two days after Honolulu City Councilman Trevor Ozawa introduced a resolution calling for such an upgrade.

Ozawa’s resolution describes some of the supposed advantages of the new meters:

WHEREAS, in recent years, municipalities throughout the country have been replacing traditional Coin-only parking meters with smart parking meters that allow payment by credit card or mobile phone; and

WHEREAS, smart parking meters are generally paired with wireless sensors embedded in the pavement or installed in stalls to detect the presence of vehicles; and

WHEREAS, the advantages of smart parking meter technology include: payment convenience, warning alerts for users, improved compliance and enforcement, more efficient parking space usage, and comprehensive user data collection; and

I was especially interested in the reference to parking meters that work with a smart phone app, allowing both payments and tracking of time remaining on the meter.

We’ve seen these in a number of mainland cities, and there were prior hints that Honolulu was going in this direction.

Back in 2012, when a pilot project with new meters was being discussed, Hawaii News Now reported:

Eventually, the city plans to create an app which drivers can tap into for up-to-the-minute information.

“You could look at a little display,” says city transportation director, Wayne Yoshioka. “It will show you which spaces are vacate, which spaces are taken, so that way, you don’t have to go round and round the block.”

Well, it’s been four years since that time, but no details seem to be available about the type of meters than have been selected, their features, whether they are smartphone compatible, the vendor, etc.

There was one news report indicating that problems had come up with the first several hundred meters installed as a pilot project.

Almost a year ago, KHON reported:

The city says they have had problems with the solar panels on the meters, batteries draining too quickly and in some cases people would put in coins and the machine would not show credit.

“They didn’t do everything they were represented to do,” said Formby. “So it is whether or not you are getting the value for your money. There are several features that we had not engaged or that we engaged once and then we turned it off and it should not be that way if you pay for the full complement of features you should get them and we did not.”

But how that turned out, whether and how problems were resolved, and what features will be available in the latest batch of meters, is unknown. At least to the public.

I tried searching the city’s Docushare system, and came up with nothing. Then I checked the city’s Procurement Office website. In the section on bid results, there were two entries on point. Each included a link promising that bid results could be downloaded.

[text]

[text]

But click on the link, and instead of bid results, you get this message:

The file you are trying to open does not exist.

Another case where the city comes up short on the transparency scale.

Candidate disclosures offer rare glimpse at finances

Here’s a pot of data that often gets overlooked.

I’m talking about the financial disclosures filed by candidates for state offices, including House, Senate, and Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

These aren’t as useful for those incumbents running for reelection, since their regular annual disclosures include more information.

However, the candidate disclosures are very useful for learning more about the challengers, a list which usually includes at least a few people of interest because of their roles in community groups, business, or public affairs.

In many cases, the candidate disclosure provide the only public accounting of their financial interests and business ties.

Okay, that may sound a lot like snooping. But to a reporter, or a citizen activist, information can be powerful, whether immediately or sometime in the future.

The disclosure process is administered by the State Ethics Commission, which recently published a list of candidates who have filed this year. It’s a good place to start.

Browse the list, and if you see a name of interest to you, then check the candidate disclosure database, click on the link for the person’s form, and check it out. You can save the form as a pdf for future reference.

OCCC tells reporters to “get off the property”

Speaking of public relations, did you catch the news yesterday about the power outage at the Oahu Community Correctional Center? Now power means no security systems working except via generators, and no air conditioning in buildings not designed to let in any outside air.

Here’s one of those things that drive me crazy, from a KHON news report last night:

We went to OCCC to see for ourselves, but were told to get off the property. We could only shoot from across the street.

We went to the union that represents corrections officers, United Public Workers, but no one was available to talk. We also went to the Department of Public Safety to get more specifics on the security measures that are in place. A spokeswoman said no one was available to go on camera. The only thing she could do was provide updates on the power outage.

There are several things in those two short paragraphs that make my head spin.

First of all, why should the Department of Public Safety be concerned about news crews on site to report on the power outage? Why not assist them in getting a couple of good camera angles and, in the process, assisting the public in understanding what’s going on? Okay, perhaps that’s just a rhetorical question, but the point is that this was wholly unnecessary, and would be counterproductive for any state department or agency.

Second, there’s a public sidewalk along the Gillingham side of OCCC. So why was KHON told they had to shoot from “across the street”?

And then there was this: “A spokeswoman said no one was available to go on camera.”

So who was the spokeswoman and why was she unable to go on camera?

According to Civil Beat’s database of public employees, the Department of Public Safety has a communications specialist earning $70,188 per year.

In my book, that’s someone who should be available to go on camera or before reporters to answer questions at just about any time.

Unavailable?

No. Unacceptable.

Transparency Forum set for Thursday evening at UH Manoa

Senator Les Ihara sent out an email notice addressed to “Open Government Supporters” about a free event scheduled for Thursday evening sponsored by the University of Hawai?i Public Policy Center and The Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest.

Here’s the info:

To Open Government Supporters:

I’d like to invite you to a special transparency forum on Thursday, July 7, 6:30pm, at UH architecture auditorium. The forum features a well-known national deliberative democracy and transparency leader — Archon Fung. Archon is on the Common Cause board of directors, and one of his books includes Keiki Caucus and my own citizen engagement activities.

LES IHARA, JR.
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Report: Sustaining Public Engagement: Embedded Deliberation in Local Communities

Click here for details on the event, free tickets, and to RSVP.