They’re public records, but the City and County of Honolulu often makes it difficult — and expensive — for the public to obtain them.

The Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest is looking to change that with four amendments it proposed to the Honolulu Charter Commission.

The Charter Commission is in the midst of assessing dozens of proposals as part of its 10-year review of the city charter.

Obtaining access to public records can often be difficult and expensive, precluding many people from obtaining the information. In 2013, for instance, the Honolulu Police Department charged Civil Beat more than $2,000 for the disciplinary records of three police officers  who had been fired.

Attorney Robert Brian Black speaks on behalf of Peer News/Honolulu Civil Beat during Hawaii State Supreme Court case involving Civil Beat's request to the HPD for records relating to disciplinary suspensions between 2003 and 2012. HPD is seeking an order requiring HPD to disclose the disciplanary suspension records. 18 june 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Attorney Brian Black is pushing proposals to ease access to public records in Honolulu. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The same year, the Honolulu city officials said it would cost $11,240 to provide copies of its responses to public records requests made over an 18-month period. In contrast, state agencies altogether charged about $2,400 and Hawaii and Kauai counties provided the records for free.

One Civil Beat Law Center proposal would eliminate fees when people are requesting documents in the public interest and expect to share them widely.

Another would allow anyone — not just a citizen — to make public records requests.

One proposal would outline what employees should do when they receive records requests, such as describing how the information is kept or suggesting ways of overcoming practical reasons for denying access.

The law center also wants to require city boards and commissions to post their meeting agendas and minutes online and send electronic meeting notices.

Brian Black, executive director of the law center, said adoption of the proposals would help bring Honolulu “into the modern era of transparency.”

“Because city agencies do not proactively work to make public information accessible when requested — and in some instances actively obstruct access — many citizens feel disconnected from their government,” Black said. “Ultimately, elected representatives cannot be held accountable unless the electorate has access to relevant information.”

The amendments are among dozens submitted to the Charter Commission that address subjects ranging from the Police Commission to the rail project. The deadline to submit amendments was Saturday.

The Charter Commission will vet the proposals and decide which ones to submit to the City Clerk next year for consideration by voters in the November 2016 election.

Click here to read all of the submitted proposals.

The Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest is an independent organization created with funding from Pierre Omidyar, who is also CEO and publisher of Civil Beat.

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