Officials need less restrictive access to the public they serve

As elected officials, it’s our job to find out how people in our community feel about issues, to become educated on those issues and to enact legislation addressing them when feasible.

We ask our constituents to become involved and attend County Council and committee meetings to make their voices heard. Why? Because we want your input.

There are times we would like to come to you. You gather in community association meetings, schedule round-tables, invite experts to address your organization and have access to information we may not.

It may come as a surprise to many that the Sunshine Law limits our ability to attend your public meetings and get involved.

Currently, the Sunshine Law prohibits a quorum or more of council or committee members from attending community meetings where council or committee business will be discussed. If more than two, but less than a quorum attend, council members are required to give a report on the meeting at the next meeting of the body.

State legislators don’t need to worry about violating these restrictions because they have exempted themselves.

To better serve you, I’ve proposed an amendment to state law to allow council members to freely attend community association meetings, educational seminars and other public events.

I will ask state legislators to consider this proposal during their 2014 legislative session, which begins next month. This initiative is among my ongoing efforts to enable council members to be more accessible to our constituents and advocate for openness in government in a well-informed, transparent and responsive manner.

I’m grateful that my colleagues appear united in this endeavor, with the goal of ensuring that we can all, if we choose, freely attend public meetings and interact with Maui County residents.

One council member asked, “How can a public official not be allowed to attend a public meeting?” The restriction on attendance is hard to justify, considering that council members have no control over the agenda, discussion or outcome of public meetings.

The intent has always been to listen and do our homework.

I’ll also ask the Legislature to allow council members the ability to distribute government records among themselves.

Under current interpretations, council members may not share public documents containing useful background information on pending legislation prior to an upcoming meeting on the legislation. As a result, the documents have to be distributed during the meeting, resulting in a cursory reading, lengthy recess or deferral to facilitate a thorough understanding of the issue.

It’s hard to see how anyone in the public benefits from these restrictions.

I encourage all Maui County residents to make their voices heard on these and other important issues during the legislative session.

The council is helping the state Legislative Reference Bureau promote a series of informational workshops on Maui, titled “We the Powerful,” on how to testify on state legislation.

The workshops will be at noon on Tuesday at the Mayor Hannibal Tavares Community Center in Pukalani, 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday at the Kihei Community Center, 9 a.m. on Wednesday in the Council Chamber in Wailuku, noon on Thursday at the Kahului Community Center, 5:30 p.m. on Thursday at the Wailuku Public Library, and 3 p.m. on Friday at the Kaunoa West Maui Senior Center in Lahaina.

More information on the workshops is available at

A hui hou.

* Gladys C. Baisa is chairwoman of the Maui County Council and holds the council’s Pukalani/Kula/Ulupalakua area residency seat. “Chair’s 3 Minutes” is a weekly column to explain the latest news on county legislative matters.