Openline July 1998Posted on Jul 1, 1998 in Newsletter
Mid-Summer Report from the Director
OIP Staff Update
At the Crossroads:
Mid-Summer Report from the Director
Editor’s note: July 1998 marks another crossroads for the Office of Information Practices. The first half of the year brought a number of significant changes, including budget and staff reductions. The agency has a new administrative home (Office of the Lieutenant Governor), new proposed administrative rules awaiting public hearing, and a new and growing web site to provide information and guidance to government agencies and the public 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
The OIP looks different and will operate somewhat differently in the months ahead, in part because of the recent cuts in staff and operating budget. (For the changes in staff, please see the “OIP Staff Update” below.) In the following report the Director, Moya T. Davenport Gray, addresses these and other changes. This report is adapted from the Director’s recent remarks to the Honolulu Community Media Council.
New Home for OIP
Since its creation in 1988, the Office of Information Practices has been administratively attached to the Department of the Attorney General. On June 24, 1998, the Governor signed Senate Bill 2983 into law as Act 137. This act moves the OIP to the Office of the Lieutenant Governor as an administratively attached, temporary agency, effective July 1, 1998. Other agencies currently attached to the Office of the Lieutenant Governor include the Office of Elections, the Campaign Spending Commission, and the Commission on the Status of Women.
Open Meetings Complaints
Act 137 also gives the OIP the responsibility to receive and resolve complaints on open meetings. The original open meetings law (Chapter 92, Hawaii Revised Statutes, often referred to as the “Sunshine Law”) was not designed to receive and resolve complaints about open meetings. However, as the OIP is “the People’s Court” for open records, it seems logical for the OIP to take complaints about open meetings.
Significant Budget Cuts
The Legislature cut $216,776 and three of eight permanent positions at the OIP. In total this means that funding for four positions was eliminated and 60% of the OIP’s operating expenses was cut. This cut will reduce services to government agencies and the public. The backlog of requests for assistance, which the OIP has successfully reduced these past years, likely will grow.
The OIP plans to continue publishing its monthly newsletter, Openline, as its main educational tool. Because of funding cuts, however, the OIP will need to restrict severely, or eliminate, plans to train and educate government employees. As an alternative, the OIP is considering using its web site to offer easy-access training.
Hawaii adopted the Uniform Information Practices Act (Modified) (“UIPA”) in 1988 and created a right to look at government records. Unfortunately, this “house of public records” had no doors or windows to get to the records. Although you could “knock” at the door, government did not have to answer that door in anything but a “reasonable” time. The rules that the OIP is proposing create the doors and windows to Hawaii’s house of public records by setting time periods for government’s response.
After a two-year wait, the OIP has now received approval to hold public hearings on its proposed rules. In December 1995, both the Honolulu Star-Bulletin and the OIP’s Openline ran front page stories on the OIP’s proposed rules. The OIP circulated the proposed rules to the public for comment, including the Reporter’s Committee on the Freedom of the Press in Washington, D.C.
With the Governor’s decision to take these rules to public hearing, the OIP can now provide the rules to the public. In addition, the OIP held four state-wide informational briefings in May and June of 1998. These briefings gave attendees an opportunity to learn how the proposed rules would work if adopted. The OIP will schedule public hearings later this year.
Notice of Litigation
On May 26, 1998, the Governor signed into law House Bill 2774 as Act 82. This act, which took effect upon the signing, requires that the OIP be notified in writing at the time a civil action relating to Chapter 92F, Hawaii Revised Statutes, is filed. The OIP prefers to receive a copy of the complaint. This notification gives the OIP the opportunity to intervene in the action, representing the UIPA.
The Office of Information Practices now has its own web site, at www.state.hi.us/oip. A variety of information–including the law, guidance, Openline, the proposed rules and impact statement, the 1998 legislation tracking report, and links to the OIP’s opinions (which are hosted by the Hawaii State Bar Association)–is posted on the site.
In the near future, the OIP will post portions of its Annual Reports and, for ease with research, summaries of its opinions. The OIP is also exploring the web site’s potential for training, including online self-guided training on the basics of the UIPA and on the new rules.
The Office of Information Practices is charged with implementing the balance in the UIPA between two important principles. The OIP remains committed to (1) promoting access to public records and (2) protecting the privacy of individuals. This commitment has fueled the work of many dedicated OIP employees since the office was established ten years ago.
With all the change and challenges of this year, the OIP requests your understanding and support as it seeks to build on the work of the past.
OIP Staff Update
Because of recent budget cuts by the Legislature, the Office of Information Practices is losing several valued staff members, effective July 1, 1998. The office bids aloha and farewell to the following individuals.
Aida Mercades has served honorably as the office receptionist since 1990. Aida has been the friendly voice and face of the OIP, greeting callers and walk-ins and offering assistance, while also handling a great variety of assignments. Within the office, Aida has been a friend and shining light to all her fellow workers. The familiar advice of “ask Aida” will be replaced by “we miss Aida.” When Aida walks out the door for the last time a large piece of office history will go with her. Aida, we wish you only the best always.
J. Andrew Laurence has served diligently for two years as publications clerk: writing and editing for Openline, the annual reports, and other publications. In addition, Andrew monitored legislation for the past two sessions, work that benefited both the OIP and the public. For those who had the privilege to work alongside him, Andrew has been a revelation: an Alabama native without a southern accent, a vegetarian who was once spotted at McDonald’s, and the environmental conscience of the office, raising recycling to an art form. Andrew, our loss is the world’s gain.
Jennifer Chock has performed distinguished work as a staff attorney for the past two years. Jenny is best known for her legal insights, sharp wit, and surfing exploits. Jenny is a born trainer: she has taught us how to eat (and pronounce) Vietnamese pho, how to make intricate computer charts, how to assess the University of Hawaii volleyball teams, and how to sew your own clothes. Jenny, we wish you well.
Paul McDonald, who has never been spotted at McDonald’s, has brought his considerable computer expertise to the OIP for the past nine months. Paul has been extremely generous in sharing this knowledge with the office. He has set up several important databases and solved many a software problem. Paul, we also learned, is a master of the office prank, and he has been equally generous with these pranks, thus lightening some stressful times. Paul, we owe you a few!