Governor pushes for increased access, transparency
Hawaii Gov. David Ige has urged all state department heads to “strengthen efforts to increase access to public information, ensure that government business is conducted as openly as possible, and enhance government accountability.”
The executive memo, issued without fanfare on Aug. 25, reiterates Gov. Ige’s push for more openness and public input, but more specifically reminds government officials of the importance and aim of the Uniform Information Practices Act, first adopted into law in 1988 and amended by the legislature most recently in 2016. Gov. Ige gives department heads seven specific directives, including posting data online, appointing an official point of contact for information requests, and minimizing request costs passed onto requesters.
These directives didn’t materialize out of thin air, of course. The memo was nearly three years in the making, spearheaded by Brian Black, Executive Director of the Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest.
Brian convened a coalition of like-minded organizations and individuals (including Hawaii Open Data) in October 2014 that were interested in advancing “a culture of public access at the state level.” Even before we knew who would be Hawaii’s next governor, work began to draft a joint letter. Finally sent to Gov. Ige in December, the letter called on the state’s chief executive to “speak out strongly in favor of government transparency.”
“We have seen rising public demand for openness and increasing public suspicion of institutions that respond to scrutiny without comment or full disclosure,” explains the letter, which puts forth three suggested priorities that “would have a profound impact on access to government information.”
- State agencies should presume that government documents are public and invoke exceptions to disclosure only if they must, not simply because they can.
- Each State agency should post contact information for the public to easily ascertain how to submit requests for records.
- Requests made in the public interest should be charged, at most, only copying costs.
Since then, Black had been checking with the Governor’s office and the office of the state Attorney General, encouraging the state to take action on the letter. It was only yesterday, however, during a meeting on another subject, that he learned that the Governor had issued the executive memorandum.
“The executive memorandum addresses the issues outlined in our letter,” Black wrote in an email to coalition members. “There certainly are things that could have been stronger, but I hope you all agree that this is a positive development.”
He notes that the letter applies only to state agencies under Gov. Ige’s administration, thus potentially excluding the University of Hawaii or Office of Hawaiian Affairs. It also doesn’t apply to county governments.
“We must remain vigilant when dealing with State agencies on public records that the agencies take these principles to heart,” he adds. “I am excited to see where this takes us.”