Big Island Press Club Announces Annual Awards

March 16, 2018, 11:09 AM HST (Updated March 16, 2018, 3:39 PM)
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The Big Island Press Club (BIPC) has awarded its annual meritorious Torch of Light Award to Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest and the Lava Tube dishonor award to the state Office of Information Practices (OIP).

The Torch of Light award is given to an individual or entity who brightens the public’s right to know, while the Lava Tube dishonor is given for a lack of communication and keeping the public in the dark.

Lava Tube Dishonor

The Lava Tube is awarded to the state Office of Information Practices for the average length of time it takes to issue a decision on a public complaint about access to government information, according to reports published by The Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest (CBLC) in February 2017 and again in February 2018. The most recent study found despite OIP having more attorneys and staff per capita than any other state with a similar office, “OIP has the longest delays for public access disputes among its peer agencies with available information.” The study also found that only three of the 46 decisions issued by OIP between 2015 and 2017 were done so in less than two years. The study also found that similar offices in other states typically rendered decisions within three to six months, with some states able to do so in even less time.

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OIP quickly responded to CBLC’s latest report by stating most matters it handles doesn’t require a written opinion and in 2017 resolved most the same day through its Attorney of the Day service. It also stated, “CBLC’s motives are suspect,” and asked rhetorically, “Without OIP to provide (Attorney of the Day) service, would there be more clients for a ‘public interest’ law firm to choose from?” That’s basically a suggestion that a nonprofit law organization that takes cases strictly on a pro bono basis is seeking to poach clients from OIP.

Senate Bill 3092, which would give OIP a hard deadline of six months to render big decisions, was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018, but no hearings have been scheduled since.

Since its founding, the BIPC has protested any absence of transparency or accountability within the halls of state and county government in Hawai‘i. This Lava Tube award is especially unfortunate, as OIP is the state agency tasked with ensuring state and county government organizations in Hawai‘i abide by two state laws—the Uniform Information Practices Act (UIPA), which is the state’s open-records law, and the Sunshine Law, which is the state’s open-meetings law. BIPC’s officers agree with the statement in CBLC’s most recent report: “Forcing the public to wait two years or more for resolution of public access disputes at OIP is unacceptable.”

Torch of Light

BIPC has selected Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest for its Torch of Light award for the research between 2015-17 that brought the time lag between complaints and the time it takes OIP to issue decisions on weighty public access issues.

The CBLC, according to its website, is an independent, nonprofit organization which offers “free legal advice, and representation on a select basis, to members of the media and the public who need help with issues involving government transparency.”  It seeks to forge “solutions that promote transparency in government to better serve the people of Hawa‘i” and, as in the case of OIP, “investigating questionable government activity, advocating for corrective action, and, if needed, enforcing corrective measures in the courts.”

Funded by eBay founder and philanthropist Pierre Omidyar, Civil Beat Law Center is a different entity than the news website Honolulu Civil Beat.

The Big Island Press Club, the state’s oldest press club, founded in 1967—has awarded the Lava Tube and the Torch of Light annually since 1997 on Freedom of Information Day, March 16. This day also marks the birthday of our nation’s fourth president, James Madison. Born in 1751, Madison was the principal architect of the U.S. Constitution, and one of the three authors of the Federalist Papers; he is recognized by historians as one of America’s earliest and foremost advocates for open, accountable governance.

Previous Lava Tube Dishonorees

  • 2016 Former Mayor Billy Kenoi
  • 2015 State Land Board Chairwoman Suzanne Case
  • 2014 Chief Elections Officer Scott Nago
  • 2013 Democratic Party House District 5 Council
  • 2012 State Sen. Clayton Hee
  • 2011 Governor Neil Abercrombie
  • 2010 Hawai‘i County Council
  • 2009 Noelani Whittington, County Department of Public Works
  • 2008 Mayor Harry Kim and Hawai‘i County Council
  • 2007 State Board of Education
  • 2006 Honolulu, Kaua‘i, and Hawai‘i County Councils
  • 2005 District Judge Matthew S.K. Pyun
  • 2004 State Land Board Chairman Peter Young
  • 2003 State Sen. Cal Kawamoto
  • 2002 University of Hawai‘i Board of Regents
  • 2001 University of Hawai‘i Board of Regents
  • 2000 State Rep. Eric Hamakawa and Hawaii County Councilman James Arakaki
  • 1999 Hawai‘i County Council
  • 1998 Hawai‘i Gov. Ben Cayetano
  • 1997 Hawai‘i County Councilman Elroy Osorio

Previous Torch of Light Honorees

  • 2016 West Hawai‘i Today reporter Nancy Cook Lauer
  • 2015 State Sen. Lorraine Inouye
  • 2014 USGS HVO Scientists
  • 2013 Mayor Billy Kenoi
  • 2012 County Councilwoman and state Rep. Helene Hale (posthumously)
  • 2011 State Judicial Selection Commission
  • 2010 Hawai‘i County Civil Defense and other departments
  • 2009 Legislature, Gov. Linda Lingle
  • 2008 Les Kondo, Office of Information Practices
  • 2007 West Hawai‘i Today
  • 2006 Lillian Koller, State Department of Human Services
  • 2005 Retired Circuit Judge Paul de Silva
  • 2004 UH Mānoa Journalism Professor Beverly Keever
  • 2003 U.S. Rep. Patsy Mink (posthumously)
  • 2002 Hawai‘i County Mayor Harry Kim
  • 2001 Hawai‘i County Clerk Al Konishi
  • 2000 Hawai‘i Gov. Ben Cayetano
  • 1999 Jerry Rothstein and Judith Graham
  • 1998 Environment Hawai‘i and Common Cause
  • 1997 Society of Professional Journalists, Hawai‘i Chapter
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