Watchdog group urges Ige to release COVID records
The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii says the lack of transparency is ‘eroding public trust in the management of the pandemic’
News Release from Grassroot Institute
HONOLULU, Aug. 24, 2020 >> The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii today urged Gov. David Ige to comply with an open-records request made by The Associated Press to release government communications relating to the state's COVID-19 response.
The request seeks records of communications between the governor’s office and the state Department of Health, other state organizations and representatives of the tourism industry.
The AP made similar requests nationwide and received records from 15 states at no cost. Hawaii, however, was one of the states that did not provide the requested records.
Citing the COVID-19 emergency and his own emergency proclamation suspending the deadlines for Hawaii’s Uniform Information Practices Act, Ige told AP that he would respond to the request after “normal government operations have resumed.”
Keli'i Akina, president and CEO of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, said in a letter sent to Ige this afternoon, “At a time when Hawaii residents need more transparency from their leaders, the state is going in the wrong direction.”
There is a reason, he said, "that the Grassroot Institute was one of the first to call out the wrongful suspension of the state’s transparency laws early on in the lockdown. Hawaii was the only state in the country to take such an extreme position, and it was clear that the move would undermine the principles of government openness and accountability. Now we are seeing how justified those concerns were."
He continued: “Hawaii’s residents are entitled to know more about the decision-making process behind the government’s coronavirus response. The lack of transparency from the governor’s office is eroding public trust in the management of the pandemic. If the state were more open about the data and decision-making process behind the government’s COVID response, it would be easier for the public to evaluate the efficacy of those measures.
“We call on Gov. Ige to prioritize responding to the AP’s records request in full,” Akina said. “The people of Hawaii deserve to know.”
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The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii leads the call for the governor to release to a news agency his COVID-related communications
Just days after Grassroot Institute of Hawaii President Keli'i Akina wrote about the state's troublesome penchant for secrecy during this time of crisis ("Public deserves to know more about emergency decision-making"), the issue burst into public consciousness when Gov. David Ige refused to supply COVID-related public records to The Associated Press.
“When the suspension is lifted and government employees are able to work in their offices and normal government operations have resumed, your request will be addressed,” the governor’s office said Monday.
Ige was referring to his suspension of the state's open-meetings and open-records laws way back in March, at the very beginning of Hawaii's coronavirus crisis, allegedly so the state could respond quickly and effectively to the public health threat. Following intense opposition from the Grassroot Institute and other public watchdog groups, Ige seemed to give a little, saying he would urge government agencies to respond to information requests whenever possible. But the transparency laws remained suspended.
We were all reminded of this sad and dangerous fact when Ige's conflict with The Associated Press was reported. Among the first to react was Akina, who quickly fired off a letter to the governor urging him to "prioritize responding to the AP’s records request in full."
Yesterday, the state's largest daily newspaper, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, weighed in as well, with an editorial titled "Hawaii Gov. David Ige flouts public’s right to records." It mocked the governor's statement that he would comply with the AP request when "normal government operations have resumed," because, well, "there’s no chance of so-called 'normal' government operations resuming in the foreseeable future."
Of course, that's a sad situation itself. But the Star-Advertiser continued: "Amid policy missteps, the Ige administration’s lack of transparency has resulted in confusion and an eroding of public confidence in our state’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis. To help set matters right, Ige should direct the OIP (Office of Information Practices) to swiftly comply with the AP’s request. … With more secrecy, more missteps are likely."
READ AKINA'S LETTER TO IGE
Akina shares 'open records' views with Perry
The secrecy surrounding COVID-related decision-making in Hawaii has caught the attention of journalists throughout the state, including Michael W. Perry, the state's most popular radio personality, who yesterday interviewed Grassroot Institute of Hawaii President Keli'i Akina on his "Perry & The Posse" program.
"Most people have generally gone along with the government [lockdown] restrictions because most people tend to trust government," said Perry, whose show is heard mornings on KSSK AM and FM.
"But this one," he said, referring to Honolulu's latest "stay at home" lockdown, scheduled to go into effect today, "is getting mixed reactions, and I’m seeing a lot of people going, 'This makes no sense.' 'It seems so arbitrary.' 'What’s up here?' Would you agree?"
"Well, absolutely," Akina responded. "Bottom line: It’s the trust factor. Government is telling us what to do and what not to do, but they’re not explaining why. And there’s a huge amount of confusion."
"To make it worse, the governor waived Hawaii’s transparency laws, … and he’s refused to let media like The Associated Press see his basic COVID communication with various departments.
"Hawaii residents deserve greater transparency," Akina said. "Without that, there’s a huge amount of mistrust that takes place. … More transparency will go a long way toward bringing us together to end this crisis."
HEAR THE INTERVIEW
SA Editorial: Hawaii Gov. David Ige flouts public’s right to records
Related: Which Lobbyists are Driving COVID Policy? Hawaii Gov. David Ige declines to address open-records request