The state Office of Information Practices (OIP) responded to a report published yesterday by the Civil Beat Law Center entitled, “Breaking Down Hawaii’s Broken System for Resolving Public Access Disputes.” Based on its inaccurate assumptions and metrics that excluded a number of relevant factors, the Civil Beat Law Center’s Report concludes that “OIP’s backlog is trending upward despite a downward trend in new filings.” The Report criticizes OIP’s “first in, first out” guideline that generally gives preference to the resolution of older cases before newer cases, and recommends, among other things, that the Attorney of the Day (AOD) service be suspended while OIP focuses on resolving its backlog.
The Civil Beat Law Center’s Report is based on flawed methodology, inaccurate assumptions, its writer’s particular perspective as an advocate and legal advisor for a media outlet, and a lack of understanding of how and why OIP has actually conducted its business over time. OIP’s data shows that its backlog correlates directly with the number of new formal cases filed each year, and has been ameliorated by OIP’s increasing productivity in resolving more cases since FY 2013. OIP believes that its “first in, first out” guideline fairly allows those standing in line the longest to get their appeals resolved first while still allowing a few requesters to “cut in line” in matters of significant public interest or other good cause. OIP considers its popular AOD service to be its “express line” to quickly and informally help people with simple questions, help agencies comply with the law, and prevent small issues from turning into bigger problems that will increase its backlog of formal cases.
OIP understands that the Civil Beat Law Center is an advocate for its media client and is in litigation against government agencies, which explains its adversarial view of government agencies. Government agencies are often at odds with the media and under pressure to disclose matters that may be confidential or private information. As the neutral agency charged with administering Hawaii’s open records law, OIP is usually caught in the crossfire as it balances the overall public interest in disclosure of government records against the individual’s privacy interests that are protected by the state Constitution and statutes. Similarly, as the neutral agency administering the open meetings law, OIP often delivers unwelcome news to boards that require them to revise inadequate meeting notices or re-do meetings that did not meet the Sunshine Law’s requirements.
Although OIP’s decisions may disappoint people with differing perspectives, it is unfair to question OIP’s neutrality because of disagreement with OIP’s decisions. It is also unfair to look at only one of OIP’s many duties and conclude that the public access system is “broken.” While OIP can understand why some reporters believe they should be able to get their newer cases resolved before older ones, OIP does not believe that “cutting in line” is fair to the other requesters waiting their turn in line, including reporters from competing organizations or the individuals who feel that their cases are important in their lives. And it makes no sense to shut down the AOD “express line” to focus on formal cases requiring opinions. Without OIP’s help, where else will people not represented by attorneys turn to for answers to their questions about the public access law or procedures?
You can find the Report attached to OIP’s Response on the Reports page of OIP’s website at oip.hawaii.gov. OIP welcomes your feedback, which you can e-mail to [email protected] or call 586-1400. If you want to be added to or deleted from the What’s New list, please e-mail OIP as well. Mahalo!