Hawaii’s government needs to be more open and transparent.

That was the message during Wednesday’s Civil Cafe event at the State Capitol, which focused largely on government accountability issues.

The event, sponsored by Honolulu Civil Beat, featured state Rep. Gene Ward, Sen. Donna Mercado Kim and Corie Tanida, executive director of Common Cause Hawaii.

The Civil Cafe discussion Wednesday on government transparency featured (left to right) Corie Tanida of Common Cause Hawaii, Rep. Gene Ward, Civil Beat Opinion editor Chad Blair, Sen. Donna Mercado Kim, and Civil Beat reporter Courtney Teague.

The discussion took place on the same day former House Speaker Joseph Souki was forced to resign after admitting to sexually harassing numerous women in his State Capitol office.

In the wake of Souki’s departure, Kim said it is important for audience members to get involved with events like Civil Cafe and hold their legislators accountable.

“We do have procedures and we want to make sure that anyone out there who feels that they have been violated in any way that there is a process for them to follow and that it is taken seriously,” said Kim, a Democrat.

“And we are seeing that in action today as people come forward and as these things get through the process on what can happen when we take charge and we say zero tolerance.”

Ward, a Republican, said it was a “surprising way” for someone Souki’s age to end their career.

“We all get sexual harassment training and it’s amazing how it’s been over probably five years that that’s been mandatory and in effect,” Ward said. “Sometimes you can listen but it doesn’t sink in.”

Airport Authority Left Panel Split

Kim and Ward disagreed about a proposed solution for improving conditions at Hawaii’s airports.

Senate Bill 2996 would create a separate airport corporation within the Department of Transportation to manage and and oversee Hawaii’s airports. But Kim said she doesn’t think a new corporation will help things improve.

Kim explained the issues Hawaiian Airlines faced in building its new cargo hanger and the millions of dollars the state “wasted” by hiring DOT-hired contractors and consultants at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu.

“We ended up with a project that clearly has very bad discrepancies and should never have happened,” Kim said.

She sees the bill that would create a nine-member board similar to the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation responsible for projects at the airport, “as more bureaucracy and less transparency,”

“They would not be subject to the governor or the Legislature,” she said.

“We would have nothing to say about their budget,” she added.

Ward said Hawaii should follow the other 47 states that have separate airport authorities.

“Every airport I’ve been in, and I’ve been in a lot of third world airports, are better than the airport we’ve got in Hawaii,” he said.

He said this bill would allow airports to “speed up” repair and maintenance.

OIP Bills

The panel also discussed a dead bill that would have required the Office of Information Practices to resolve all disputes about public records requests within six months.

Currently, the state takes more than twice that long, on average.

Tanida said people may not need that information any more after two years.

“Whether it’s the media, whether it’s a member of the public for whatever reason we need it for a specific purpose and two years later the conversation has changed,” she said.

Although Tanida said the organization was “disappointed the conversation has stopped” because the bill is dead, she talked about her support of another bill that is moving forward.

Senate Bill 2735 would change the way the OIP director is appointed. Currently the governor has complete control over who is appointed and how they are removed.

Tanida referred to former OIP director Cathy Takase who was fired in 2011 after publicly disagreeing with then-Gov. Neil Abercrombie.

“There’s no check or balance on this at all,” Tanida said. “And we’ve seen in the past when the OIP director says something that the governor doesn’t like, they’re out the next day.”

She said that Common Cause Hawaii is hopeful that bill will pass.

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