HAWAII ISLAND – This years dubious Lava Tube Award goes to the Democratic Party House District 5 Council for its “behind-closed-doors handling” of a recent special election, according to the Big Island Press Club.
The press club awards the Lava Tube annually on March 16th, Freedom of Information Day, and the birthday of James Madison, one of the nation’s foremost advocates for government openness.
The 2013 Lava Tube award stems from the Democratic Council’s naming of three nominees to replace District 5 Representative Denny Coffman, who left in the middle of his term. The district covers Kailua-Kona, Kealakekua, Captain Cook, Ocean View and Naalehu. Richard Creagan was eventually named to the seat – the final say went to Governor Neil Abercrombie – but the press club says the award has nothing to do with the nominees. It was about the process.
In the case of the Lava Tube, BIPC wants to make it clear that it is not commenting on the merits of the candidate appointed to that post, Richard Creagan. Instead, the Lava Tube is awarded because the process was closed to public and media scrutiny, unlike similar procedures recently used to pick state senators.
The secrecy — so insidious that participants had to sign confidentiality agreements in order to vote and even the county Democratic Party chairman was barred from the meeting — led to accusations by one candidate that the election was rigged. An investigation by the party found no wrongdoing.
Because of the lack of transparency, it’s not totally clear who actually selected the three candidates from a field of nine. Creagan, who was chairman of the District 5 Council at the time, recused himself from voting and did not attend the meeting although he had the right to do both, under the rules.
It is to the credit of the state Democratic Party and Hawaii County Democratic leadership that new rules are to be voted on at the party convention in May to prevent the failings of the past election.
The House party process was in marked contrast to two recent procedures filling Big Island democratic seats in the state Senate. In those two cases in 2011, the meeting where the party election was held was open to the public, and the press reported on the finalists immediately after the election. Big Island Press Club media release – March 16, 2014
On the bright side of the awards, Mayor Billy Kenoi earns a Torch of Light, an award given to “an individual or organization who brightens the public’s right to know.” The press club points to Kenoi’s “persistence in trying to increase government transparency with a package of ethics reforms” as the impetus for the distinction.
Kenoi is honored for bucking the county establishment in trying multiple times to get an ethics bill passed by the Hawaii County Council.
The essence of the proposal is that county employees may be an employee or a contractor of the county, but not both. In advocating complete transparency for county government, Mayor Kenoi’s bill prevents the appearance of county employees using their status to unfairly secure significant, large county contracts.
Mayor Kenoi introduced ethics reforms bills in 2009 and 2013. The County Council has so far taken no action. The current ethics reform bill, already postponed twice by the County Council, is on the Finance Committee Agenda for Tuesday, March 18.Big Island Press Club media release – March 16, 2014
The press club media release also contained a bit of history on the awards:
The Big Island Press Club has given the Lava Tube and the Torch of Light awards annually since 1997. Gov. Ben Cayetano has the distinction of being the only person to win both the Lava Tube in 1998 and the Torch of Light in 2000. The Hawaii County Council has won a Lava Tube four times.
The Big Island Press Club was founded in 1967 and is the oldest continually active media organization in the state of Hawaii.Big Island Press Club media release – March 16, 2014
Previous Lava Tube Dishonorees
2012 State Sen. Clayton Hee
2011 Governor Neil Abercrombie
2010 Hawaii County Council
2009 Noelani Whittington, county Department of Public Works
2008 Mayor Harry Kim and Hawaii County Council
2007 State Board of Education
2006 Honolulu, Kauai, and Hawaii County Councils
2005 District Judge Matthew S.K. Pyun
2004 State Land Board Chairman Peter Young
2003 State Sen. Cal Kawamoto
2002 University of Hawaii Board of Regents
2001 University of Hawaii Board of Regents
2000 State Rep. Eric Hamakawa and Hawaii County Councilman James Arakaki
1999 Hawaii County Council
1998 Hawaii Gov. Ben Cayetano
1997 Hawaii County Councilman Elroy Osorio
Previous Torch of Light Honorees
2012 County Councilwoman and state Rep. Helene Hale (posthumously)
2011 State Judicial Selection Commission
2010 Hawaii County Civil Defense and other departments
2009 Legislature, Gov. Linda Lingle
2008 Les Kondo, Office of Information Practices
2007 West Hawaii Today
2006 Lillian Koller, State Department of Human Services
2005 Retired Circuit Judge Paul de Silva
2004 UH Manoa Journalism Professor Beverly Keever
2003 U.S. Rep. Patsy Mink (posthumously)
2002 Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim
2001 Hawaii County Clerk Al Konishi
2000 Hawaii Gov. Ben Cayetano
1999 Jerry Rothstein and Judith Graham
1998 Environment Hawaii and Common Cause
1997 Society of Professional Journalists, Hawaii Chapter