S Memo 15-2

Posted on Apr 14, 2015 in Informal Opinions - Sunshine Law

S Memo 15-2
April 14, 2015
Honolulu City Council
Annual Budget Review

The purpose of the Honolulu City Council Budget Committee’s annual budget review is to receive overviews by each City agency of their proposed budgets, and for Budget Committee members to discuss general issues arising from the agencies’ presentations. An anonymous requester complained that the Sunshine Law’s notice requirements were violated when councilmembers discussed, on the last day of the multi-day 2013 annual budget review held by the Budget Committee, the Executive Branch’s proposed fuel tax increase that had been raised during the “Administrative Overview” on the first day of the meeting.

Requester’s first allegation was that the Council Chair’s “closing remarks” on the fuel tax proposal, made on the last day of the meeting, were improper because they were raised after completion of the agenda item for the Legislative Branch’s budget. Although the proposed fuel tax increase was not specifically on the agenda, OIP found that there was a sufficient nexus between the “Administrative Overview” agenda item heard earlier and the specific items raised by the Executive Branch as part of its budget overview to allow the discussion of the proposed fuel tax increase in general terms by the Council on the last day of the multi-day meeting. OIP found that the agenda did give notice that everything in Executive Branch’s budget would be touched on and therefore it would be an extremely broad, if shallow, look at the entire budget.

OIP noted that the Sunshine Law does not restrict consideration of agenda items to the order they are listed on an agenda or prohibit reconsideration of an agenda item later in the meeting. OIP also recognized the ability of boards to dictate the course of discussion of agenda items, including taking agenda items out of order, recessing discussion of an agenda item then returning to that discussion at a later point in the meeting, and reconsidering items in accordance with rules a board may have adopted and typical parliamentary procedure. When proper public notice of an agenda item has been given, the Sunshine Law allows that agenda item to be discussed and reconsidered at any time during the course of the noticed meeting. OIP thus concluded that the Budget Committee Chair had discretion to allow revisiting of the Administrative Overview agenda item when the Council Chair submitted “closing remarks” on the fuel tax increase after discussion of the Legislative Branch’s budget.

Requester’s second allegation was that the fuel tax was again discussed by most of the Councilmembers present during the Budget Committee’s final agenda item, “Committee Overview of Budget Presentations,” on the last day of the meeting, after all agencies had completed their budget presentations. OIP found that it was appropriate, when the last item on the annual budget review agenda was considered, for Budget Committee members to comment on the matters discussed during the prior days of agency briefings. The final agenda item was on the agenda so that the Budget Committee could discuss the “Budget Presentations.” It was the designated time set forth on the agenda for the Budget Committee members to discuss and comment on all prior presentations during the week. While it may not have been an optimal situation for members of the public who were only interested in agenda items from previous days to have to return on the last day for the Budget Committee’s discussion on those items, OIP did not find that those actions violated the Sunshine Law and noted that the agenda did inform the public that this would happen.