A blog post by Kauai journalist Joan Conrow took the Garden Island newspaper to task for apparently basing a story on a Maui sunshine law complaint solely on a press release from the authors of the complaint.
The complaint was filed with the Office of Information Practices by the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (HAPA), headed by former Kauai county council member Gary Hooser.
HAPA alleged “egregious violations” of the sunshine law by Maui County Council Chair Mike White.
According to the Garden Island:
After Election Day, on Nov. 9, documents show that White met, either in person or via phone or electronic means, with multiple members of the Maui County Council, discussed the council organization and came to a decision that involved agreement by a quorum — all without public notice and without a public meeting being held.
Conrow points out that the one-sided Garden Island story contrasted with a report in the Maui News, which included comments from White and reference to prior OIP rulings.
From the Maui News:
White countered in an email to The Maui News that an opinion letter published by OIP on Nov. 14, 2002, confirmed that incoming council members are not subject to the state Sunshine Law until taking office. He added that the complaint filed by HAPA is “highly political and unsubstantiated.
“This is the same political organization that trained many of the ‘Ohana Coalition candidates, including my opponent, that ran against sitting members in the last election,” White said. “This organization and their supporters are using fear tactics and intimidation to try and get their way.”
The opinion confirmed White’s view that new council members are not subject to the law until they take office. In addition, the opinion notes a provision allowing limited private discussions about the selection of officers.
The sunshine law provides:
Discussions between two or more members of a board, but less than the number of members which would constitute a quorum for the board, concerning the selection of the board’s officers may be conducted in private without limitation or subsequent reporting.
Interestingly, the 2002 opinion was made in response to a request by then-Garden Island reporter, Tony Sommers.