Toothless tiger pretty slow too

The Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest is an organization devoted to “forging solutions that promote transparency and responsiveness in government to better serve the people of Hawaii.”

With this motivation, the law center works to make sure that agencies, committees and political actors at all levels of government comply with the provisions of Hawaii’s public records and open meetings law. As we have noted here before, Hawaii has a very weak Sunshine Law because there is little or no way to enforce its provisions other than through costly lawsuits.

This week the law center released a report — its second one — highlighting delays in the state Office of Information Practices. OIP is the agency responsible for reviewing public complaints about violations of the Sunshine Law. From the press release on the report:

“Looking at additional data from OIP since issuing the last report, this year CBLC found that:

• “Applying the same methodology as last years’ analysis, delays at OIP are not improving. 

• “OIP issued only 3 of 46 recent decisions in less than 2 years after a complaint, meaning the public must wait 2-3 or more years for OIP to decide complaints.

• “Compared to other states, OIP has the longest delays in the country among peer agencies with available data.

“Compared to other states, OIP has the highest staffing levels per capita among peer agencies with available data.”

In short, if you are a public official intent on avoiding transparency, you’re in the right state. Even if someone does file a complaint, there won’t even be an opinion issued by OIP for over two years. Everyone will have forgotten what the issue was.

Brian Black, the executive director of the law center, pointed out in the press release that lost in OIP’s huge backlog are complaints about environmental issues, government audits, public housing, Honolulu Area Rapid Transit, etc., etc. In short, almost every governmental controversy has a complaint or two residing in OIP’s growing backlog.

It’s time for Hawaii to rethink its approach to governmental transparency. The Washington Post has a new slogan — “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” The darkness our ineffective law and watchdog agency creates is an invitation to corruption.

* Editorials reflect the opinion of the publisher.