The Sunshine Blog: Bungled Communications, A Tweet Attack, And A Longing For Another Side - Honolulu Civil Beat

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About the Author

The Sunshine Editorial Board

The members of Civil Beat’s editorial board focused on ‘Let The Sunshine In’ are Patti Epler, Chad Blair, John Hill and Richard Wiens.

Short takes, outtakes, our takes and other stuff you should know about public information, government accountability and ethical leadership in Hawaii.

Seriously?: Just when you thought Maui County couldn’t get any worse at communications and media relations they go from bad to really bad.

On Friday, The Sunshine Blog and just about every media outlet in the country that has been covering the Maui fires was surprised to see an Associated Press story recounting 911 calls made by panicked and desperate residents of Lahaina pleading for help from emergency officials as flames were looming on the edge of town.

Surprised because we all had submitted public records requests weeks ago for the 911 tapes. So why were they only released to one outfit, the AP?

Who knows. Civil Beat couldn’t even get ahold of anyone in the communications department to ask WTF until late Friday. And then we were told the same tapes that the AP got would be released to everyone else on Monday morning.

Well, that didn’t happen. Now they say the request is with “Corp Counsel” for review. But didn’t they already release it? So what’s to review? The Blog is so confused.

Meanwhile, Maui communications chief Mahina Martin decided to use the county’s Facebook account to apologize for releasing the tapes and blame it on the insensitive media.


Numerous commenters immediately called her out though, rightly pointing out that the only way the public is going to know how well — or not — Maui County responded to the emergency that was engulfing the town was by hearing for themselves how it was playing out.


Of course, not everyone thinks the tapes should have been released and other commenters sided with Martin.


All valid concerns and over the next few days the debate became as much about Maui County and its response to the fires as it was about the media and the public airing of the 911 tapes.

But, as one commenter pointed out, it shouldn’t be any surprise that news organizations would request the tapes, as they have done for every major disaster including fires in the country for years.

So what are we missing here? If it’s not a surprise to most people that 911 tapes are required to be made public and that it’s a common practice and that many people welcome their release, why is the county still stalling?

Bye bye birdie?: Local tech guy and media whiz Ryan Ozawa is urging Gov. Josh Green and Mayor Rick Blangiardi to order state and city agencies to cease and desist when it comes to using Twitter (now called X) for communicating to the public.

In a letter last week to the governor and the mayor, Ozawa argues that the social media platform is not a good place to be these days.

“Twitter (or ‘X’) is no longer a reliable medium to provide civic and official information, and further, driving traffic to the site is supporting its current policies — which monetize disinformation and do not moderate hate speech, CSAM, harassment, and other dangerous content,” Ozawa writes.

Specifically, he directs the political leaders attention to media reports about misinformation that is spread on Twitter most recently about the attacks on Israel and Gaza, and articles critical of how Elon Musk has changed the platform since he took it over.

Ozawa also wants Twitter icons removed from government web pages and notes that at least one local government — in Kansas — has already done this.

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“It bears noting that Twitter has remarkably low engagement overall, and delivers almost negligible traffic already. Such a change will have minimal practical impact, but significant moral impact,” Ozawa says.

The Sunshine Blog long ago gave up on social media including X/Twitter for anything but cute cat videos.

Motion commotion: Speaking of cats, the Democratic Party of Hawaii’s State Central Committee held a contentious Zoom call Saturday that ran well over four hours.

By the time it was finished the committee managed to schedule a special meeting for Oct. 28 to decide the fate of embattled chair Dennis Jung, who is aggressively fighting a concerted effort to remove him over allegations of mismanagement.

Hawaii Democratic Party 2018 convention held at the Hilton Waikaloa in Kona, Hawaii.
Hawaii’s Democratic Party is still struggling to find itself and a new leader. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2018)

There will also be another election at that time for the party’s vice chair and assistant secretary, as candidates for those seats were challenged by some Democrats. Bill Puette, the party’s parliamentarian, is so upset with the dispute between Jung and State Central Committee members that he quit his post.

It’s been said that getting Democrats to unify is like herding cats, but the local party is looking a lot more like elephants these days.

Food for thought: Your Sunshine Blogger sat through the Hawaii Economic Association‘s conference at the Halekulani late last week, which featured plenty of expert panelists. They had some very interesting thoughts to share.

“This sounds like heresy, but we really do need a vibrant opposition party,” former Gov. John Waihee told the group, adding that otherwise the majority party is consumed by personality politics.

Waihee, a Democrat, reminded the audience that it was Republicans who led the charge to establish Hawaiian homelands (Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole), open up Asian immigration to the U.S. (Sen. Hiram Fong) and stop the military bombing of Kahoolawe (Rep. Pat Saiki). But the focus of today’s local GOP, Waihee said, is unfortunately not on Hawaii.

Former Governor John Waihee at the 175th anniversary of Washington Place ceremonies.
Former Gov. John Waihee is wishing for some loyal opposition. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022)

Writer and researcher Tom Coffman noted that Gov. Jack Burns’ 1970 campaign was the first time a candidate spent over $1 million. But it was also the time when the Hawaii Carpenters Union fund was formed and when Hawaii saw the emergence of trade union leader Walter Kupau.

What followed was a pattern of groups such as contractors giving more and more contributions to politicians. The only way to move away from what Coffman called a “two-handed process” that keeps a lot of the same people in power — and which invariably leads to corruption — is real campaign finance reform. 

Lori Kahikina, executive director and CEO of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, said she was shocked to learn how political the rail agency was. “Actually, I think the main reason HART was formed was to keep politics out of it,” she said.

Kahikina said she also held nearly 90 speaking engagements last year, no matter how small the audience, to get the word out on her work at HART. And yet, media criticism was constant and negative. She learned the “style” of the various reporters and decided that she would not talk to those who would “twist my words and be so negative.”

HART CEO Lori Kahikina doesn’t like some reporters. We can only imagine who. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

Kahikina did not identify the reporters but astute Civil Beat readers know that she has been infamously less than forthcoming with Civil Beat reporters while gushing over TV hosts.

City and County of Television: Ryan Wilson, formerly of Hawaii News Now, is now a communications officer for the Honolulu mayor’s office. The move reunites Wilson with other HNN veterans Scott Humber and Ian Scheuring and of course Rick Blangiardi himself.

Another TV veteran, Brandi Higa (formerly of KITV), is also part of the comms team.

Molly Pierce, who previously worked in the comms office, has moved over to the Department of Emergency Management to replace John Cummings as PIO. He retired last month after 25 years of service.

Read this next:

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About the Author

The Sunshine Editorial Board

The members of Civil Beat’s editorial board focused on ‘Let The Sunshine In’ are Patti Epler, Chad Blair, John Hill and Richard Wiens.

Latest Comments (0)

Many thanks for posting about the 911 calls. I will not defend the County, but I WILL defend the people who had to listen to these and redact them. Anyone who thinks that would be an easy job needs to reconsider. The same applies to the body camera footage. We all owe a huge Mahalo to the people who do this, especially as the County and mayor fail to stand up for them and support them, over and over.I agree that Mahina's statement was inappropriate. I was very disappointed in her for it, in fact. I've known her for many decades and never felt she would "slipside away" like this. I personally didn't listen to any of the calls, because I lived enough of it in real time. I didn't want to hear the grief, fear, and anguish anymore than I already had and still do, from survivors. However, others I know have, and sometimes it has helped them understand the scope of the disaster. People in Central, south, and East Maui have learned more about the actual timeline and total failure of our management, by listening to these, reading CB's excellent articles, and someday--hopefully seeing body camera footage if they want to watch it.There must be full disclosure. Mahalo Nui Loa, CB.

MauiLolo · 1 month ago

But you're on Facebook.

Natalie_Iwasa · 1 month ago

This is typical old school Maui, hiding behind the "aloha" telling us: "no question, no grumble, no make waves" Maui has changed, and we locals do ask questions and want accountability. Please keep asking the hard questions, Civil Beat, and get us answers. You are just doing your job well. True Investigative reporting has not happened on Maui for many years. Born & raised - 3 generations.

Makena.82 · 1 month ago

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