Category Archives: Sunshine

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.
– – – – – – – – – –

Report: Sustaining Public Engagement: Embedded Deliberation in Local Communities

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

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.