When we launched Civil Beat a year ago, our goal was to build a place where we can all learn about and better understand our home and the challenges we face.

The way we planned to do that was by writing stories of the type we weren’t seeing enough of elsewhere, stories that broke new ground, stories that went further, stories that had impact.

Perhaps the Civil Beat articles that had the most impact in the past year were the ones about the salaries of state and Honolulu workers. We were the first news organization in Hawaii to report what is public record, how the state and Honolulu pay their workers. We published the complete list of salaries and were told by state workers that it helped them because they could raise questions about why one person was paid more than another when the person didn’t do more or better work. The articles also pointed out the troubling fact that we have government employees earning so little that they’re eligible for food stamps.

As you can see from our coverage of salaries, Civil Beat is passionate about transparency. But we’re also passionate about other issues, such as injustice, accountability and government waste. Our goal was to have an impact on the community through our coverage of each of these areas. Here are some examples of that impact from our first year:


Week 29: Three Deputies Give New Meaning to the Term Shield Law

Summary: Civil Beat exposed that the state court system had been charging just to review court records, a clear violation of constitutional guarantees of the openness of the courts.

Impact: The new court administrator immediately changed the policy the day after he took office.

Wide Gap Between Illegal Rentals, City Enforcement

Summary: Civil Beat showed that while neighborhood groups complain about property owners violating short-term rental laws and turning residential neighborhoods into tourist hubs, the city of Honolulu barely enforces the law, citing only 18 property owners in all of 2010.

Impact: The city administration says it wants new legislation to fix the issue and city councilors say they’re going to revisit it.

Election Office Breaches Confidentiality of Voters

Summary: Civil Beat revealed privacy flaws in the state voting system.

Impact: State election officials said they would rectify the problem.

Government Waste

Road to Riches: Overtime at City Road Division

Summary: Civil Beat revealed that five workers in one year made more in overtime than in salary and that some were double-billing for the same time they claimed to have worked.

Impact: Overtime abuse in the Honolulu Road Maintenance Division is under investigation by the city administration and the prosecutor’s office.

Government Waste Watch: State Paying Staff to Retype Every Food Stamp Application

Summary: Civil Beat reported that the state, at a time when it was cutting expenses and claiming it didn’t have any money, was paying staff to re-enter food stamp applications that had already been typed into a computer by the applicants.

Impact: Administration said it would implement online filing.

Road to Riches: City Workers Claimed 5,525 Overtime Hours for Illegal Stream Dumping

Summary: Honolulu already owes $1.7 million in fines for illegally dumping concrete rubble into a Waianae stream. Removing the debris will cost another $1.13 million. But Civil Beat showed that the true cost of the incident is much higher: City workers were paid more than 5,500 hours of overtime to do the work in the first place.

Impact: Taxpayers learned true cost of illegal dumping.


Selling Sex In Honolulu: In Nine Months, Police Dept. Arrests Just One Pimp

Summary: Authorities have said for years that the state didn’t need any more laws to help fight modern-day slavery. Then Civil Beat revealed that Honolulu Police had charged just one pimp in nine months.

Impact: The Hawaii Legislature this year passed a law making prostitutes eligible for the witness protection program, a key step in helping fight human trafficking.

During Tsunami, Hawaii Homeless Left Behind

Summary: During the tsunami, Civil Beat reported that many Hawaii homeless had been left behind in the flood zone.

Impact: After our report, the city announced it would revise its tsunami response plan — and improve access to free transportation for homeless.

Lack of Hot Water For Public Housing Residents a Test for Abercrombie

Summary: Civil Beat drew attention to the plight of the residents of Mayor Wright Homes, who haven’t had hot water for years. We went so far as to call for the governor to move into the complex until the residents had hot water.

Impact: When the governor issued the second draft of his budget, suddenly money for Mayor Wright had been found.


Civil Beat Conclusion: Honolulu Rail Report ‘Shoddy,’ ‘Biased’ — and Right?

Summary: Whom to believe? That’s a tough question when you’re talking about cost estimates in the billions. A Civil Beat analysis compared the city’s financial projections for its $5.3 billion rail project and the state’s cost projections.

Impact: The City Council held an extraordinary hearing to get to the bottom of the matter, citing Civil Beat research as the basis for its questions.

Mandatory Solar Hot Water for New Homes: Don’t Believe It

Summary: Civil Beat revealed that Hawaii lawmakers’ claim that the state is the first to require solar water heaters is not true.

Impact: Legislators took up the issue.

Six Years Later, Principals Still Don’t Have Performance Contracts

Summary: Civil Beat showed that the Department of Education had made promises six years ago to evaluate principals annually and had never done it, even as it was promising to begin evaluating teachers annually.

Impact: Consistent with Civil Beat’s promise, readers had the information by which to measure government promises.

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