COUNTY OF MAUI EVEN MORE SUNSHINEY!
So really, how open is the government that runs the County of Maui? We throw around terms like “open government” all the time, but what does it mean for the actual citizens who pay for government with their taxes?
The last few weeks I’ve had a small disagreement with Maui County Council Chairman Danny Mateo over his support for the now-deferred HB 2742, a loathsome bill that would have exempted the County of Maui from the state’s Sunshine Law. The Sunshine Law lays down strict requirements for quorums, meeting in public and properly posting agendas, and is pretty much working as it is, says groups like Common Cause Hawaii.
Of course, Mateo insists that his support for HB 2742 doesn’t in any way negate his own support for “transparency and public participation in government,” because, really, can a guy get elected in this day and age for saying anything other than that?
There is new evidence, however, that the County of Maui is pretty open, as far as governments can be. In fact, it’s so open that it recently received an award saying exactly that.
“The Maui County website has been awarded a ‘Sunny Award’ for having one of the ‘most transparent government websites in America’ according to the Editors of Sunshine Review,” said County Assistant Communications Director Ryan Piros in a Mar. 30 email. “Sunshine Review President Mike Barnhard informed Maui County Council Chairman Danny Mateo about the award in a March 5 letter. In the letter Barnhard states that the Maui County website scored an ‘A’ on the Sunshine Review’s Transparency Checklist.
This is good, but you should keep a few things in mind. First, that Sunshine Review is about two years old. Secondly, that it’s a wiki, meaning that just about anyone can sign up and edit the content on its site. And third, that “transparency” doesn’t just mean free and unfettered access to the information government officials want public, but all government information.
Apparently, I’m not the only one skeptical about the county’s award-winning commitment to transparency. On Mar. 31, I received an anonymous but thoughtful letter to the editor criticizing the Sunshine Review award because county officials haven’t been too open when asked to share details about the proposed county budget.
“As council member [Riki] Hokama said at the Budget meeting ‘I need to see numbers,’ not self-promotional advertisements of what you [want] the public to believe,” states the letter, which appears to have been sent to every local media outlet and government official on Maui. “It’s bad enough that the departments create and report their own performance measures–might as well take advantage of the fact that Maui is [one of] the only counties not to have an independent auditor. And when the public asks for this detailed information in order to make informed decisions? We are referred to a STATE website, to fill out forms which are then given to lawyers to decide if the public is permitted to see how tax dollars are being spent?”
Of course, the massive 600-plus page proposed operating budget and similarly sized capital improvement budget are posted on the county’s website, but understanding it is a challenge for anyone not holding a CPA’s license. But if a slightly known non-profit organization wants to give an award to the county for merely meeting the standards of openness required under state laws, who are we to argue?
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JOE VS. GIL
According to writer Susan Halas (who also took the above photo), termed-out Maui County Councilman Joe Pontanilla announced at a Mar. 28 campaign event that he will run against incumbent state Representative Gil Keith-Agaran for the 9th District House seat, which includes Kahului and Paia. Since both are Democrats, this has all the makings of a rough primary battle: on one side, you have the intellectual, Twitter-savvy Keith-Agaran, and on the other you have the go-along, get-along Pontanilla who packs powerful union support and easily won election after election to the much bigger county council seat representing Kahului.
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MAUI GETS NEW OLD BUSES!
It really seems that when it comes to public transportation, Maui is most definitely Honolulu’s younger cousin. How else to explain the Mar. 30 press release I got from the county saying that the City and County of Honolulu decided to give Maui a few 18-year-old buses?
“The three 40-foot transit buses are being retired from TheBus to make way for new replacement buses, which are part of a fleet management plan to maintain the average age of TheBus fleet at a desired target age,” said Louise Kim McCoy of the Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle’s office in a press release forwarded by Maui officials. “The retired buses being transferred to Maui County are fully operational, but are at the end of their planned service life with TheBus fleet. If they were not transferred to Maui, these buses would be sold at an auction.”
See, it’s not so bad. The hand-me-down buses were merely “retired” because they reached “the end of the planned service life.” Later in the release, Carlisle himself even calls the buses “older but still productive,” as though he was worried about upsetting the buses’ delicate emotional sensibilities. In any case, Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa should get some kind of appreciation for putting the best spin on this.
“The Maui Bus system is one of the fastest growing public transit systems in the nation right now,” said Arakawa in the press release. “We have more passengers waiting at our bus stops every day and no room on our buses. This transfer from the City and County of Honolulu is helping us to address that problem. We wish to thank Mayor Carlisle and the Oahu residents for rescuing our Maui Bus riders from being stranded. We truly appreciate their aloha.”