We recently received a tip about an employment disagreement at the Honolulu Board of Water Supply.

So we did what we generally do when we get an interesting tip: We submitted a public records request to the BWS and the Honolulu Department of Corporation Counsel (that’s the city attorney’s office) for final arbitration decisions involving BWS employees.

The city’s reply was disappointing to say the least. And puzzling.

Here’s a sample of the document we received:

Can you tell what this case is about?

Can you tell what this case is about?

Pretty meaningless, right? The excessive redactions effectively hide all the facts of the case and leave us with more questions than answers about what the employment disagreement was about.

Why did this person file a grievance in the first place? Did he have legitimate workplace concerns? Or was he unfairly targeted by his superiors for discipline? At this point, there’s no way of knowing.

We were told by both the Board of Water Supply and Corporation Counsel that revealing such information would be a “clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy” for the employee who is named in the records as well as any witnesses.

Not So Public

Revealing the substance of the disagreement, we were told, would also “frustrate a legitimate government function.” That’s government’s general response when officials don’t want to give out the information we are seeking. Of course, they don’t usually say exactly what the government function is that’s being frustrated so it’s hard to argue the matter.

In this case, we think the process is backwards.

To address privacy concerns, why not simply redact the BWS employee’s name from the documents? Same goes for witnesses.

As for frustrating a legitimate government function, we remain perplexed. The documents involve a final arbitration decision, meaning that the case is over and both sides have moved on. There’s no more back-and-forth between the opposing sides.

Now the question is: What are they trying to hide? We’ll get back to you on that.

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