As the Honolulu City Council holds its second full meeting Wednesday under social distancing restrictions, members may teleconference in to offer input on legislation, but island residents cannot.

Members of the public have the option of either submitting written testimony or showing up to Honolulu Hale in person to share their thoughts at a physical distance from others.

The last Honolulu City Council meeting, streamed on Olelo, allowed public testifiers in one at a time.

Natalie Iwasa, a city government watchdog, criticized the limitation at last month’s meeting.

“I wouldn’t be here if we could have video conference testimony,” she said. “So, I’m wondering why that wasn’t done.”

Council Communications Director Louise McCoy said the council hopes to implement a system “at an appropriate time” and in accordance with emergency proclamations.

“The Honolulu City Council is still looking into the feasibility of a system that can both provide remote public video testimony and safeguard Council proceedings and protocols,” she said by email.

“In the meantime, while the stay-at-home orders are in effect, the Council will continue to encourage the public to submit written testimony and continue to welcome individuals, if they choose to testify in person, and asks all attending to follow the safety and social distance procedures implemented by the Council for everyone’s welfare.”

Other jurisdictions are already allowing citizens to provide live oral testimony. According to a report by Governing.com, Miami Lakes Florida has been allowing residents to teleconference in since January 2019. More recently, the Seattle City Council invited citizens to participate in meetings via conference call, and New York Landmarks Preservation Commission is allowing the public to provide live testimony via Zoom or by calling in.

Support local journalism

Studies have shown that when local journalism disappears, government financing costs go up, fewer people run for public office, elected officials become less responsive to their constituents, and voter turnout decreases. Our small nonprofit newsroom works hard every day to present local news in a deep and transparent way, without fear or favor. We also rely on donations from readers like you to keep us afloat. The more support we receive; the stronger, more sustainable our journalism becomes; the more accountable we are to you. Please consider supporting our Honolulu Civil Beat with a tax-deductible gift.

About the Author