The Honolulu City Council violated the Hawaii Sunshine Law when members discussed policing on Mauna Kea at a meeting last summer without providing six days of public notice, Circuit Judge Lisa Cataldo ruled on Wednesday.

The Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest filed suit in October after Oahu resident Natalie Iwasa complained about the council’s action in a Civil Beat Community Voice column.

A resolution requesting that the city administration produce a report on the Honolulu Police Department’s involvement with Mauna Kea protesters did not appear on the July 19 agenda for the Public Safety and Welfare Committee. Instead, council members voted to add it to the agenda on July 25, the day of the meeting.

Brian Black Executive Director Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest. 21 feb 2017
Civil Beat Law Center Director Brian Black said the Honolulu City Council can only add minor items to its agenda without proper public notice. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Items should not be added to agendas within six calendar days of a meeting if they are of “reasonably major importance” and action by the government body will “affect a significant number of persons,” the lawsuit complaint said.

“If you look at how that provision was interpreted in the past, you’re not supposed to add anything to the agenda, unless it’s super minor, something the public won’t have a terrible interest in,” said Brian Black, executive director of the law center.

The use of Honolulu police officers on Mauna Kea was “without a doubt” a topic of great public interest, Black said.

“At the same time this council meeting was happening, you had protests taking place or preparing to, a couple of blocks away at the Capitol, of pro-TMT, and anti-TMT people, and none showed up at council meeting because there was no notice,” he said.

“It’s ludicrous that the council thought they could just add this to the agenda and circumvent the Sunshine Law.”

City Council Communications Director Louise McCoy said that Council Chairman Ikaika Anderson “will reserve comment until he reviews the judge’s final written ruling with the City’s Corporation Counsel.”

Civil Beat Law Center Fellow Lisa Engebretsen successfully argued for a court order declaring the council violated the law.

According to Black, there will be additional proceedings regarding the appropriate remedy for the violation. The original complaint asked for court orders requiring the defendants to participate in annual Sunshine Law training and prohibiting the city from amending agendas within six days without approval from the Hawaii Office of Information Practices.

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. Civil Beat Editor Patti Epler sits on its board of directors.

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