Posted on May 19, 2020 in Formal Opinions

Opinion Ltr. No. F20-03
May 19, 2020
Amendment of Agenda

Requester complained that the City Council, City and County of Honolulu (COUNCIL-HON), violated the Sunshine Law when COUNCIL‑HON’s Committee on Budget (Committee) added Bill 3 (2019), entitled “A BILL FOR AN ORDINANCE RELATING TO REAL PROPERTY TAX EXEMPTIONS” (Bill 3), as an item for discussion to its agenda during the Committee’s meeting on February 27, 2019 (February Meeting).  The Committee had filed its Agenda for its February Meeting on February 21, 2019 and sought to add Bill 3 to this already filed Agenda by filing an addendum to its Agenda (Addendum) on February 22, 2019.

As OIP opined, the Sunshine Law does not allow a board to amend its agenda by filing an addendum to a previously filed meeting agenda.  HRS § 92-7(d) (providing that a board may add an item to its agenda at the meeting when certain criteria are met).  Even if the Addendum had been a revised agenda intended to fully replace the previously filed Agenda, the Committee would have still acted improperly in filing it late, in violation of the requirement in section 92-7(b), HRS, that a notice be filed no later than six calendar days before a meeting.  Thus, OIP concludes that the Committee’s posting of the Addendum five days prior to its February Meeting was not sufficient to add Bill 3 to the Agenda in violation of section 92-7, HRS.

Bill 3 proposed to reduce the real property taxes to be paid by homeowners by increasing the exemption amounts that may be subtracted from the homeowners’ estimated property values that are subject to taxation.  The Mayor’s veto message asserted that Bill 3 would result in an overall $10.3 million real property tax revenue loss and may impair the City’s ability to fulfill its financial obligations.  The Real Property Assessment Division, Department of Budget and Fiscal Services, provided data to the Committee showing that in 2019 there were 256,737 residential parcels, many of which are occupied by homeowners who pay real property taxes.  In view of the Mayor’s veto message and BFS’ data, OIP found that Bill 3 was clearly of major importance and the Committee’s approval of Bill 3 affected a significant number of persons.  Thus, in OIP’s opinion, under these criteria, Bill 3 did not qualify as a topic that could be added to the Agenda under section 92-7(d), HRS.  HRS § 92‑7(d) (allowing a board to add an item to its filed agenda at a meeting by a “two-thirds recorded vote of all members to which the board is entitled; provided that no item shall be added to the agenda if it is of reasonably major importance and action thereon by the board will affect a significant number of persons”).  Therefore, OIP concluded that the Committee violated the Sunshine Law by improperly voting to add Bill 3 to its Agenda at its February Meeting and then voting to approve Bill 3.

OIP noted that COUNCIL-HON took measures to mitigate the public harm from the violations when COUNCIL-HON referred Bill 3 back to the Committee and the Committee properly noticed Bill 3 on its agenda for its meeting on April 3, 2019  and voted on Bill 3 at this meeting.

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