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Grand Wailea hearings open to the public

Hearings officer allows livestreaming following high court intervention

The hearings officer in the contested case over the Grand Wailea’s expansion plans has agreed to open proceedings to the public by videoconferencing in the wake of a writ filed with the state Supreme Court opposing the closed meetings.

Hearings officer Linden Joesting, a Maui attorney, issued her decision on July 1, after a hearing with the parties. Contested case proceedings set for July 29 to Aug. 3 will be held by videoconferencing, her order said.

On May 7, Joesting issued an order to close public proceedings in the Grand Wailea contested case and to allow only the parties in the case access. She said that a contested case process is governed by “Administrative Procedures” rules — which do not require an agency hearing to be open to the public — and not the “Public Agency Meetings and Records” provisions.

The decision was made in the context of COVID-19 emergency rules.

After several closed hearings were held, media groups Disappeared News and The Hawai’i Independent and journalist Victor Gregor Limon filed a writ of mandamus with the state Supreme Court to have the proceedings opened based on First Amendment protections. The high court ordered parties in the case, which included the Maui Planning Commission, Maui Planning Department and Grand Wailea owners BRE Iconic, to respond to the writ.

On June 24, the high court sent the case to the Maui Planning Commission for resolution. In dismissing the writ — without prejudice, meaning it could be refiled — the high court noted that all parities “agree that public access should be provided” and that “the parties generally favor arranging for livestream or alternative means for the public to observe proceedings.”

Joesting held a videoconference hearing with all parties on July 1, and noting concurrence of all parties, issued the order to open the proceedings. The public will have the right to call into the videoconference “solely to observe,” her order said. Individuals who disrupt the hearings and refuse to comply with the hearings officer’s instructions to maintain order will be removed from the videoconference.

If Joesting believes that the hearings need to be closed to the public, she will inform all parties, hold a hearing, render a decision prior to the closure taking effect and suspend the hearings if necessary, the order says.

The filers of the writ were not totally satisfied.

“Without the intervention of the Hawaii Supreme Court this case would have continued in the darkness of closed proceedings,” said the media groups’ attorney, Lance Collins.

He added that the videoconferencing may not be enough given what happened at a June 9 meeting of the Maui Planning Commission. The BlueJeans videoconferencing system was unable to accommodate everyone seeking to log into the meeting.

The media groups “are of the position that the order without more does not satisfy the Constitutional obligations of the commission,” Collins said in a July 2 letter to Lawrence Carnicelli, chairman of the Maui Planning Commission, and Michele McLean, director of the Planning Department.

Hearings could be streamed on YouTube with public interaction over WebEx. Akaku Maui Community Media, which broadcasts county board and commission meetings, also could be a resource.

The Grand Wailea Maui, a Waldorf Astoria Resort, is seeking to expand the resort by 151 rooms and add another garage level, among other plans. The resort is seeking a special management permit from the Maui Planning Commission. Malama Kakanilua, Ho’oponopono o Makena and Pele Defense Fund were granted intervention in the proceedings.

At a June 10 meeting, the commission denied an attempt by the intervenors to have Joesting removed as hearings officer.

* Lee Imada can be reached at leeimada@mauinews.com.

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