Working in the shadows

The Maui County Council is getting ever more comfortable with conducting the public’s business out of sight.

Every member of the council is complicit because none of them is screaming about the increasing occurrences of important decisions being announced after closed-door sessions.

State law requires open public meetings except in narrowly defined circumstances. Try telling that to council members who have made major decisions about the tearing down of the old Wailuku Post Office and the proposed Launiupoko purchase.

And who even knows what discussions occurred about the appointment of a new county clerk. That was accomplished in record time without giving the public even a glimpse of their thought processes.

We asked the state Office of Information Practices to investigate the council’s actions in August when, after an “executive session,” the members announced they were not hiring their own attorney to assist in the investigation of the tearing down of the old Wailuku Post Office. Instead, they came out of the session and said they would ask the new county auditor to look into it and utilize the services of corporation counsel.

When OIP requested minutes of the executive session, they were given heavily “redacted” minutes of the session. In other words, the OIP was given an edited version of those minutes – a heavily edited one. Fifteen of the 20 pages were completely redacted except for the header.

Never mind that the OIP would have reviewed the minutes “en camera” (privately) – our council decided it didn’t have to comply with a request from the state office charged with assuring compliance with the Sunshine Law.

Now the county has sued to block OIP from issuing a ruling on the case, saying it would be “irreparably harmed” if the session was deemed a violation of the Sunshine Law. In our view, “irreparably harmed” is – to put it nicely – hyperbole.

Lord forbid the public should know what their councilors were talking about.

The most recent thumbing of their noses at the public occurred last week when former Council Member Danny Mateo was appointed county clerk. In response to the retirement of the clerk earlier this month, the council added to its Friday agenda a resolution to appoint Mateo as his successor.

Was Mateo the only candidate? Who knows? There was no public discussion. We (and the public) found out on a Wednesday that the old clerk had retired – two days later, the council appointed a new one. At a $93,000 per year salary. Barely a discussion. No public input. No referral to committee – the standard practice.

Nope. Two days after announcing there was an opening, it was filled.

Surely, our council members couldn’t have decided on this choice privately. That would have been a violation of the Sunshine Law.

* Editorials reflect the opinion of the publisher.