Category Archives: Sunshine

Say hello to Oceanic-Charter Communications

Oceanic-Time Warner Communications is going, although the company website still boasts the TWC name.

Say “Hello” to Oceanic-Charter Communications, which apparently will soon carry Charter’s Spectrum brand.

I’ve been wondering about how little local news coverage there’s been the takeover of Oceanic Cable’s parent company, Time Warner Cable, by Charter Communications. The deal closed last month, but it barely made a ripple here.

The Star-Advertiser ran an Associated Press national story when the deal closed, but I don’t recall anything local.

Since Oceanic has had such a large presence statewide for so long, the silence is noticeable.

The newspaper came around to the issue through the back door on Sunday in a column about control of broadcast rights of Hawaii high school athletics (“Hawaiian Telcom hopes to gain access to high school sports programming“).

The article reports on questions raised about Oceanic’s current lock on high school and UH sports.

It references comments Hawaiian Telcom filed with the FCC as part of the Charter-Time Warner docket.

I found two, the first dated August 25, 2014 and the second dated October 13, 2015.

The Star-Advertiser reported:

Oceanic, the dominant provider in the state with a reported 76 percent video market share and 69 percent of consumer broadband sales, has exclusive contracts with the University of Hawaii, the public high school Oahu Interscholastic Association and the Hawaii High School Athletics Association, which represents all schools, public and private, for state championships.

And then this caught my eye:

The OIA reportedly receives approximately $100,000 from their contracts with Oceanic, with additional monies paid to the HHSAA, but parties declined to discuss terms.

Wait. Is it possible that the broadcast contract covering Oahu’s public school teams is exempt from disclosure by routing it through the nonprofit OIA? Does the Department of Education know what the terms of the deal are? Is the contract a public record?

Interesting questions.

I hope we see some clarification of this point in light of the state’s public records law.

In defense of legislative decorum

In my Civil Beat column last week, I took a slightly different position than usual, speaking out in support of the members of our legislature (“Ian Lind: Legislators, And The Political Process, Deserve More Respect“).

I was reacting to C-B columnist and retired UH Political Science professor, Neal Milner, who had criticized legislators for declining to speak “on the record” about internal legislative factions and political dynamics.

Milner accused legislators of “hiding out in the dark,” and said they were “too frightened to explain publicly to the voters how the Legislature really works.”

I took issue with that characterization, pointing out that there are many good reasons for not going public with all the inside gossip.

I would encourage you to read the whole column, and if you’re not a Civil Beat subscriber, find a friend who will share the column with you. Better yet, consider subscribing to Civil Beat. It’s no longer as expensive as it used to be.

Here’s one section of the column.

Simple good manners are one good reason that legislators might not want to offer up blunt and candid assessments of their colleagues for public consumption.

Working together in a setting as complex as a legislative body requires overcoming personal differences in order to build and maintain working relationships. People work together by finding areas of agreement and, for the sake of getting things done, overlooking their differences, at least temporarily.

In other areas of everyday life, we have things that we might say privately, among family or trusted friends, that we would never share publicly. This puts a limit on transparency that isn’t based on fear. It’s based on our common sense approach to getting along with others in the world.

The Legislature isn’t any different, just more complicated.

Eagle was spot-on when he described the Legislature as “organized chaos.”

I’ve often commented on the amazing complexity of the Legislature and what it takes to get things done. There are 76 legislators elected from their own single-member districts.

Back in their home districts, each is on his or her own. They seek office for different reasons, with different goals. Some believe in causes, some just in themselves. Some squeak in by a few votes, others are elected by broad margins.

They come from diverse backgrounds, and vary greatly in education, experience and innate abilities. All are almost by definition ambitious.

They’re divided by political party, by age, gender, ethnicity, state of origin, by the special interests of their districts and their islands, by ideology and by profession. Somehow they get themselves organized and select leaders through a baroque process of political barter and negotiation.

And only then do they start on the policymaking process of sorting through thousands of ideas, reducing them to bills and, somewhat miraculously, finding ways to reach agreement on at least some of them while in the pressure-cooker atmosphere of a 60-working day session.

The legislative process depends on harnessing all those competing egos and interests so that they can work together toward at least some minimal version of a common interest. Throw in the pressures introduced by lobbyists, constituents and community groups, special interests, and those pesky reporters, not to mention personal or family demands, and it’s amazing that the process works at all.

Sunlight Foundation looks at unregistered lobbyists

If you’re at all concerned about the regulation of lobbyists and lobbying, you will want to check out this article from the Sunlight Foundation, “What is shadow lobbying? How influence peddlers shape policy in the dark“).

The basic premise, backed up by some data and anecdotal evidence, is that lobbyist registration and disclosure requirements have loopholes that are being exploited by many to avoid disclosure. The article is focused on the national level, but I’m sure if we dig down a bit, we’ll find applies to state and local lobbying in Hawaii as well.

Both the article and its rich set of references are worth careful reading.

Shadow lobbying refers to someone who performs advocacy to influence public policy, like meeting legislators or their staff, without registering as a lobbyist — and it’s a big problem for anyone who cares about transparency in Washington. (For further reading on this topic, you can’t do better than to read Lee Fang’s 2014 investigation of shadow lobbying at The Nation.)

At the Congressional level, lobbyists are supposed to register if they spend 20% of their time lobbying for a client, or make two or more contacts with legislators, their staff, or certain executive agency officials.

The article refers to this 20% criteria as “reasonably easy to get around.”

The same seems to be true of Hawaii’s lobbying law, which defines a lobbyist as someone who is paid and spends at least a certain amount of time and/or money lobbying.

It’s widely recognized that Hawaii’s lobbyist law is a mess. The State Ethics Commission has publicly discussed the problems of enforcing the law’s requirements on several occasions. Unfortunately, SB3024, which would have provided funding for a task force to review the lobbyist provisions, appears to have died in conference.

In any case, thanks to the Sunlight Foundation for their excellent review of the issues.

Star-Advertiser legal challenge gets E&P attention

An appeal by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser to the Hawaii Supreme Court seeking to require judges to go through the required legal steps before sealing court records from public view was featured yesterday in Editor & Publisher (“Honolulu Star-Advertiser Fights to Keep Court Records Open to the Public”).

E&P linked to a January 23, 2016 S-A story, which explained the background of the issue (“Petition says judge violated 2 constitutions“).

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Friday asked the Hawaii Supreme Court to bar a lower court judge from sealing any more documents in a high-profile sex assault case and other criminal proceedings without following required procedures detailed in a recent high court ruling.

In its petition to the justices, the newspaper argued that Hawaii island District Judge Barbara Takase blatantly violated the 2014 ruling and the state and U.S. constitutions last week when she sealed previously public documents in the case against Ethan Ferguson, a state Department of Land and Natural Resources law enforcement officer.

E&P quoted Star-Advertiser editor Frank Bridgewater.

Bridgewater said he’s hoping the time and money the Star-Advertiser has spent (the process will cost several thousand dollars) will prevent judges from improperly sealing court records in the future.

“It’s important we take the lead on this,” Bridgewater said. “We have to. No one else will. No one else will know this is happening…We owe it to ourselves, our readers and the general public to keep an eye on these things.”

Here are several documents filed in the case, which spell out the legal arguments.

Petition for Writ of Prohibition and Writ of Mandamus, filed on behalf of Oahu Publications, dba Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

Reply filed by Attorney General Doug Chin on behalf of Judge Barbara Takase.

Reply in Support of Petition, filed on behalf of Oahu Publications.

Speaking of the Star-Advertiser, Torstar Corporation reported its 2015 financial results last month. The company is publisher of the Toronto Star and owner of a 19% stake in Black Press, the private company that owns Oahu Publications, which in turn owns the Star-Advertiser.

According to the Torstar announcement: “Black Press is a privately held company that publishes more than 150 titles in print and online in Canada and the U.S. and has operations in British Columbia, Alberta, Washington, California, Hawaii and Ohio.”

Torstar reported:

“Our share of Black Press’ net income was $3.0 million in 2015 ($4.0 million in 2014), representing Black Press’ results through November 30, 2015. Black Press has a February fiscal year end and therefore does not have coterminous quarter-ends with us.

That would put the total net income of Black Press for the period at $15.8 million. Since the company is privately held, there aren’t any shareholders to scream about such a small return on the company’s total operations involving all those newspapers across Canada and the U.S.

And David Black, owner of Black Press, has a reputation for keeping the tax bit on his companies profits low by constantly plowing revenues back into the operations and further expansion.

The Torstar reporting offers just about the only bit of public insight into the finances of the Black publishing empire.

Sunshine could have kept Kenoi out of trouble

My Civil Beat column this week takes another look at the role that Hawaii’s lukewarm application of the state’s public records law played in the mess Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi finds himself in (“Ian Lind: Kenoi Had Good Reason To Think He Could Misuse Funds“).

I know that others blame some character flaw in Kenoi himself, but those kinds of flaws are a dime a dozen in the population and among those in elective office.

But if the public’s right to know were actually being enforced, then Kenoi would never have assumed that his indiscretions would remain out of sight and out of mind.

My point was relatively simple. If public officials were accustomed to operating in a climate of transparency and openness, Kenoi would never have started putting personal expenses on his purchasing card account. Sunshine would most likely have kept him out of trouble.

But in our current political environment, far too many requests for disclosure of government records are met with veiled hostility and behind-the-scenes resistance from agency employees, who understand that their elected bosses are not champions of transparency.

Elected officials often pay lip service to openness, but in practice are loath to let the press and the public in on their secrets. Under those circumstances, the mayor thought he was safe from public scrutiny. And he was, for years.

And the way these things work is that getting away with the risky once or twice encourages the behavior to continue and usually to escalate.

If Kenoi had been encouraged to stay on the right side of that thin edge of ethics by the understanding that his spending records wouldn’t stay secret for long, he might have made different choices, and would now be looking at a run for higher office instead of a high-profile criminal trial.

One important point didn’t make it into the column. The Uniform Information Practices Act, which governs disclosure of government records to the public, requires the disclosure of “Government purchasing information, including all bid results, except to the extent prohibited by section 92F-13.” See section Section 93F-12(3).

And since none of those exceptions appear to apply to the pCard records, it would not appear that there were valid grounds to avoid disclosure for years, as was the case here.

In any case, check out the column if you have a chance.