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Civil Beat Editorial Board

The members of The Civil Beat Editorial Board are Chad Blair, Patti Epler, Nathan Eagle, Kim Gamel, John Hill and Keona Blanks. Opinions expressed by the editorial board reflect the group’s consensus view. Not all members may participate in every interview or essay. Chad Blair, the Politics and Opinion Editor, can be reached at cblair@civilbeat.org.

Hawaii’s current governor has long touted his experience as an engineer. He earned a degree in electrical engineering from the University of Hawaii Manoa and later a master’s in business administration focused on decision sciences.

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As his official bio chronicles, Hawaii’s current governor became “a successful electrical engineer and project manager with a 34-year career devoted to information technology, telecommunications, networks, and responsible public policy.”

Engineers are nerdy by nature, curious, analytical, attentive to detail and focused on pragmatic solutions.

And yet Gov. David Ige is using tortured logic and ignoring solid data in determining that he may veto a bill that would go a long way in increasing transparency in government.

Instead of respecting the facts, the compromises and the hard work that went into the unanimous passage by the Hawaii Legislature in May of Senate Bill 3252 — as well as the broad support from public interest, good government and media groups — Ige appears to have been swayed instead by the irrational fear from his own department heads that the legislation would somehow place an enormous burden on them to respond to public records requests.

SB 3252 would cap the costs charged for reproduction of certain government records and waive all charges when an electronic format is available and when the record’s disclosure is in the public interest.

In his June 27 statement on the potential veto of bills, Ige said of SB 3252 that it would unduly burden boards and added, “There may be more UIPA lawsuits, which will increase costs to government agencies through awards of attorneys’ fees and costs to plaintiffs filing those lawsuits. As a result, agencies may be forced to choose between responding to records requests and performing their regular jobs.”

This is simply not accurate, and it is mortifying that Hawaii’s governor believes otherwise.

Governor David Ige walks into the ceremonial room holding a binder before the intent to veto bills press conference begins.
Gov. David Ige is considering vetoing a bill that calls for greater government transparency. That’s a bad idea. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

Brian Black of the Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest says agencies opposed to SB 3252 want to keep the public in the dark. He has found that public interest requests are “a small fraction” of all the requests made statewide, or roughly 5% each year.

“Fulfilling these requests will not overwhelm agencies. In the end, there will be some cost to government resources, but it is more than offset by the significant public benefit of true government accountability and a better informed citizenry,” Black posted recently on the law center’s website.

Black, who is asking the public to contact the leaders of the Legislature — House Speaker Scott Saiki and Senate President Ron Kouchi — to override any veto of SB 3252, observes that Ige strongly supported transparency and accountability initiatives in the past, when he was in the Legislature.

But that changed once he became governor. At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020, Ige unwisely heeded the alarm from his agencies and suspended the state’s public records law, even though the public was hungry for information during the crisis and even though no other governor took such an extreme step.

During an interview with the Civil Beat Editorial Board in June 2021, Ige insisted that his administration had received a high volume of public records requests during the pandemic.

“It definitely was an increase during the pandemic because of the nature of the pandemic over and beyond what typically would happen,” he said.

But, when Civil Beat looked into that assertion, we found that there had been less than two dozen requests that qualified as in the public interest in fiscal year 2020, which was about the same as the number from the previous two years and just half the requests made in 2015. So the pandemic did not cause a flood of public records requests, as the governor told us. (State agencies get many more requests from people seeking records from their personnel or case files.)

At the press conference earlier this week announcing the veto intent, Ige was asked which agencies might have pushed back against SB 3252.

“I wouldn’t want to name,” he replied, although he mentioned requests about clean water and the Red Hill fuel leak. “I think in general, some agencies are better at responding, and it could be that some requests that they get are more focused.”

Ige also complained about getting “a lot of unfocused requests for information, and that becomes really, really time consuming.”

Late last week Civil Beat again asked the administration to specifically share where there had been an increase in public records requests to show that records requests have become a burden.

On Friday, the governor’s office said that there had been a total of 1,991 requests of all types — not just public interest — in fiscal year 2022, which ended Thursday. Responding to them involved 2,000 hours, and 90% of requesters paid nothing while most of the remaining 10% paid less than $50.

That suggests that the average request took about an hour to resolve. Spread across a year and dozens of agencies that just doesn’t seem like a burden. And the complaint that public interest requests — about 20 a year as our research showed — are difficult for agencies to deal with, just doesn’t hold water.

Ige’s office also emailed, at the insistence of Chief of Staff Linda Chu Takayama, an actual request — in this case, one asking for detailed information on how the administration established policies on mandates, masks, social distancing, crowd size, transmission locations, testing and fatality counts.

But, as Black points out, “Nothing in this response acknowledges that the governor and the other state agencies never have to sacrifice other duties to respond to public records requests.”

Referencing Hawaii Administrative Rules, he said, “An agency can slow its response when someone makes a ‘voluminous’ request … and the ‘agency requires additional time to respond to the request in order to avoid an unreasonable interference with its other statutory duties and functions.’”

As for the sample provided by Ige’s chief of staff, Black said, “Pointing to one unreasonably broad and vague request to justify ignoring all the reasonable requests that could bring accountability to agencies is ludicrous. Clear example of baby out with the bathwater.”

Ige is also looking to veto Senate Bill 3172, another government transparency measure that would require any audio or video recording of a board meeting be maintained as a public record. In his statement on SB 3172 Ige used similar — and similarly tortured language — as he did with SB 3252: “This bill will place unmanageable burdens on boards, particularly small boards that have no staff and rely entirely upon volunteers.”

The deadline to veto bills is July 12. Contact the governor to let him know your views on SB 3252 and SB 3172.

If Ige can’t be persuaded to back off on the veto threat, maybe he will consider letting them become law without his signature. If that’s not too much of a burden.

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About the Author

Civil Beat Editorial Board

The members of The Civil Beat Editorial Board are Chad Blair, Patti Epler, Nathan Eagle, Kim Gamel, John Hill and Keona Blanks. Opinions expressed by the editorial board reflect the group’s consensus view. Not all members may participate in every interview or essay. Chad Blair, the Politics and Opinion Editor, can be reached at cblair@civilbeat.org.

Latest Comments (0)

Again the word "transparency", used by many candidates during their campaigns including the Governor, no longer means anything but a failed campaign promise.

Westocohfd · 1 year ago

I'm sympathetic with Gov Ige's position on maintaining the diffusion of government machinations.Just imagine the fear, the disruption that an open, transparent government would bring to the table?The enhanced probability of Civil Beat types telling it like it is, oh the horror.The Brain Black's of the world, with nothing better to do with their time, making trouble via facts.The less the public knows, the better./s

jminitera · 1 year ago

The Office of Circumlocution personified.

See_Jane · 1 year ago

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