The Honolulu City Clerk’s office said it would post financial disclosure records on its website after the city ethics commission received blowback for removing that information from its site.

“In light of the Ethics Commission’s removal of online access to that information and in furthering accessibility to those documents, we will be making the requested information available on our website,” the clerk’s office said in an email to Civil Beat.

Honolulu Hale bathed in sunrise light.
For a time, getting copies of financial disclosure forms required an in-person visit to city hall. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2019

Financial disclosure forms in which the Honolulu mayor, his cabinet and council members disclose their business interests, real estate holdings and family ties will be available covering the 2018 and 2019 calendar years. The forms should be posted incrementally in the next week.

The decision comes a day after Civil Beat reported that the ethics commission had stopped posting the records and had removed two years’ worth of records that had been on its website. While the commission administers the ethics disclosure program, a statement posted on its website on Monday — after the Civil Beat story was published — says it was never obligated to make the forms publicly available. It had done so in the past as a “convenience to the public.”

“The time required to maintain them interfered with the Commission’s defined responsibilities, including investigations,” the commission said. “Aiming to improve its efficiency and responsiveness in its core tasks, the Commission decided to shed this non-required, duplicative work load. The Ethics Commission agrees that transparency in City and County government is a paramount goal, and will support efforts to make public disclosures more widely available.”

Government accountability advocates criticized the move. Sandy Ma of Common Cause Hawaii called it “extraordinarily troubling.” Brian Black, executive director of the Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest said it was “shockingly regressive” and counter to the transparency of the commission’s state counterpart, the Hawaii State Ethics Commission, which posts forms online.

The Honolulu Ethics Commission’s website had directed citizens to the city clerk’s office where the disclosure forms were available to view in person during business hours. When a Civil Beat reporter visited the office last week, staff members told her that they would charge her for copying documents with her smartphone despite no legal basis for doing so. With Black’s assistance, the city has rescinded that assertion and confirmed that no cost should be incurred for scanning records with one’s own device.

Since 2013, Civil Beat has compiled and maintained a searchable database of state and county financial disclosure statements. It is updated as forms become available from the agencies.

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