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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. Matthew Leonard and Richard Wiens.

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

It’s deja vu all over again: Rep. David Tarnas, chair of the House Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs Committee, deferred — that is, killed — House Bill 1610 on Wednesday, legislation that would place a cap on costs when the public or the media requests copies of government records. There would be no fee if the records are electronic, and the fees would be waived when the disclosure of the records serves the pubic interest.

You might be surprised to hear that The Blog thinks this is just fine.

That’s because Attorney General Anne Lopez and her staff have been working with the state Office of Information Practices to address records requests and the fees through administrative rules. The problem is, again no surprise, that OIP Director Cheryl Kakazu Park has been dragging her feet.

Park, it is clear, does not believe the public should be allowed to obtain government records for little or no cost. HB 1610, she said, is “a solution to a problem that does not exist and would only create new problems.” If you wish to learn more about Park’s views, look no further than her 4,500 words in testimony on HB 1610.

Cheryl Kakazu Park, director of the Hawaii Office of Information Practices, testified before the Hawaii House Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs Committee. (Screenshot/2024)

Tarnas appeared irked that Park had not already finished the rules, as the process began in 2017. Similar legislation to HB 1610 went through multiple revisions in the final days of the 2023 legislative session, and Tarnas ultimately killed that bill, too — House Bill 719 — because the Senate kept making more changes.

Park and a number of state agencies also testified against the measure — as they did last year and as they did on Tuesday when a Senate version of the bill was heard by the Senate Government Operations Committee. They essentially argue that responding to the people they serve takes too much time and costs too much money.

But the League of Women Voters, the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii and retired Judge Dan Foley backed the House legislation on Wednesday.

Park on Wednesday said the rules could still take a couple of years to complete. Tarnas, seemingly holding back what he really wanted to say, urged Park to “move with great speed” to promulgate the rules. That way Park would no longer have to worry “about the House telling them what to do.”

The saga of public records is not over yet. The Senate’s version of the bill is set for decision making in the Senate Government Operations Committee on Thursday.

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Stand up and be counted: Yet another sunshine bill has crossed over from the Senate to the House, this one at the request of the Hawaii Office of Elections. House Bill 129 calls for a mandatory recount when the difference in votes cast “is equal to or less than 100 votes or one-quarter of 1% of the total number of votes cast for the contest, whichever is lesser.” The current law reads “whichever is greater.”

The proposed bill also requires that the recount happen by the fifth business day after an election, and that any complaint about the election be made no later than 4:30 p.m. on the 13th day after a primary, special primary election or a county election contest held at the same time.

One other thing about HB 129: It was actually passed by the House in the 2023 session but the Senate Judiciary Committee never heard it. Chair Karl Rhoads did hear it last month, though, and the bill’s passage on third reading by the Senate marks the rare occasion when a carryover bill actually gets picked up again.

Assuming the House is cool with the measure, which was never amended, HB 129 could be heading to Gov. Josh Green’s desk very soon. Since the implementation of automatic recounts beginning with the 2020 elections, Hawaii has had 11 automatic recounts.

This just in: On Wednesday, The Sunshine Blog reported on the strange case of former Honolulu deputy police chief John McCarthy who had mysteriously appeared on this year’s legislative police disciplinary summary even though he had retired in 2021. HPD was reluctant to share many details about the sequence of events on that one because McCarthy has appealed the three-day suspension he was given to the Honolulu Civil Service Commission.

Later Wednesday, police officials sent The Blog a timeline of the events that led to the long-retired officer getting suspended over an offensive text message he sent to an HPD captain in 2020. The text contained a meme of a sexual nature, a joke but tasteless nonetheless.

Former Honolulu Deputy Police Chief John McCarthy has been a frequent critic of HPD since he left the department in 2021. (Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat/2018)

Short recap: McCarthy was promoted to deputy chief by then-Chief Susan Ballard when she took over the department in 2017. By 2021, Ballard had fallen out of favor with the Honolulu Police Commission, which gave her a critical performance evaluation. And it appears McCarthy had fallen out of favor with Ballard. She retired in June 2021; he retired in July 2021.

But, as it turns out, his retirement came after Ballard herself sent an email — in April 2021 — about the offensive text to the department’s internal investigators, which began what turned out to be a slow-moving process.

The department finished its administrative investigation in February 2022. In May, the executive review board reviewed the case and recommended a three-day suspension.

It took the city’s human resources department another year to review and concur with the outcome of the administrative investigation. In May 2023 a so-called “moot letter” was sent to McCarthy letting him know the case was a wrap but that the imposed discipline was moot because he was no longer an employee.

Thus, McCarthy’s misconduct in 2020 finally came to the public’s attention in 2024 when the legislative summary was filed.

McCarthy, as anyone who watches the TV news knows, has been a frequent critic of HPD since he left the department. Viewers — and reporters — ought to be asking themselves if a disgruntled former deputy chief is a legitimate authority on an agency that he knew was investigating him and would have suspended him if he’d still been around. At the very least, the appearance of conflict is hard to ignore.

Ethical standards: The Blog reported the other day on one of the highlights of the Hawaii State Ethics Commission’s annual report from 2023 — namely, how there had been a giant jump in government employees taking mandatory ethics training online.

Here’s another sunshiny nugget o’ news from that report, as illustrated in this graphic. It’s pretty self-explanatory, and encouraging to those of us who like to see someone upholding state law.

The commission’s report highlights some of that enforcement work, including resolving a longstanding charge against Laara Allbrett, the former director of Halau Lokahi Public Charter School.

Allbrett used state funds to pay for herself and other family members to attend the graduation of her son and related expenses totaling $2,048. She “admitted she violated” the Fair Treatment law, the report explains, and agreed to pay an administrative penalty of $2,500 to the state.

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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. Matthew Leonard and Richard Wiens.

Latest Comments (0)

"Tarnas ultimately killed that bill, too"Is there something spooky about this one man's power?

Joseppi · 2 weeks ago

It's crazy that copies of public records are still being contested. In the past say 30 years computers have really taken over and digital access is a search and clicks away. I can google Ecourt Kokua and type in a name, click on the phonetics box (i don't even need to know how to spell their name) and get information on practically anyone that has Hawaii Court records with a nominal fee to print.And yet the dealings of our own elected and paid for government are under closed records.

surferx808 · 2 weeks ago

This will just open the door for OIP Park to demand more funding and more staff. If she asks for technical support that really goes to technical that could be OK but someone outside of OIP would have to immediately confirm correct spending.Time for Park and her long time staff government attorneys to move on and out of government.

Sad_Twin_Voter · 2 weeks ago

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