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Friday, March 17, 2023
Oʻo Award for Digging out ‘Affordable’ Housing Scam
By News Release @ 6:30 PM :: 2173 Views :: Hawaii County , Ethics, Development, First Amendment

Oʻo Award for Digging out ‘Affordable’ Housing Scam

News Release from Big Island Press Club

The Big Island Press Club awards its annual meritorious Torch of Light Award to Cindy Reves, Hawaii state director for the Journalism Education Association, and the Lava Tube dishonor award to former Gov. David Ige. The Torch of Light award is given to an individual or entity for illuminating the public’s right to know, while the Lava Tube dishonor is given for a lack of communication and keeping the public in the dark.

The awards are announced yearly on March 16, Freedom of Information Day, the birthday of James Madison, who was widely regarded as the father of the U.S. Constitution and the leading advocate of openness in government among our founding fathers.

In addition to the two usual acknowledgements awarded annually by the press club, there’s a special Oʻo Award this year for a journalist or public affairs representative who’s dug especially deeply and unearthed information that creates groundbreaking news.

Lava Tube Dishonor

BIPC has once again chosen former Gov. David Ige for this dishonor for vetoing two public records bills that the Legislature passed in 2022 after two years of consideration. Ige previously won the Lava Tube in 2020.

One measure would have capped fees for access to public records, another would have required electronic audio or video recordings of public board meetings be maintained as a public record and posted.

While BIPC generally supports greater public records access for all, the club was especially concerned when Ige, in his veto message, said “agencies may be forced to prioritize responding to records requests over the agencies’ primary functions.”

“Again, the former governor just doesn’t get it,” said longtime journalist and BIPC Secretary Nancy Cook Lauer. “Responding to public records requests doesn’t take away from a government employee’s job. It is, in fact, part of the job.”

There were many times during the past eight years that BIPC submitted testimony reminding legislators that public records do, in fact, belong to the public.

“BIPC holds high hopes that the current Legislature is once again pushing these two bills forward,” said BIPC President Michael Phillips. “We understand that current Gov. Josh Green has said he will sign them, and, in fact, is working on ways more public records will be available online so that the public can access these records on their own in a timely fashion without assistance from government employees. We are holding him to that.”

Torch of Light

BIPC has selected Cindy Reves, Hawaii state director for the Journalism Education Association and adviser of The Pinion at McKinley High School. It took two years, but Reves, the local driving force behind a national effort to shield student journalists from censorship and advisers from consequences, was successful getting HB 1848 passed, making Hawaii the 16th state to join the student-led grassroots effort, the “New Voices Movement.”

The measure allows student journalists from the University of Hawaii and other public primary, secondary and post-secondary schools to exercise their rights under the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of the press, at their state-sponsored school newspapers, without censorship from the administration, with the exception of libelous or obscene material.

“Hawaii’s student journalists need the protection this law provides because current law and policy give student journalists less First Amendment rights than other students,” Reeves said in testimony to the Legislature.

BIPC and Big Island students also submitted testimony in favor of this bill, and the new measure ensures all Hawaii schools and colleges are covered by the same First Amendment protections that professional journalists enjoy.

Reves will be presented with BIPC’s iconic torch award at the organization’s annual meeting later this year.

Oʻo Award

The first-ever Oʻo Award for for a journalist or public affairs representative who’s dug especially deeply and unearthed information that creates groundbreaking news is awarded to Pat Tummons, publisher of Environment Hawaii.

Tummons, in a series of articles, exposed questionable dealings in Hawaii Countyʻs Office of Housing and Community Development that ultimately led to an FBI investigation and guilty plea by former community development specialist Alan Scott Rudo to accepting almost $2 million in bribes from two Hilo attorneys and a businessman. In announcing the charges in the $11 million scheme, former U.S. Attorney Clare Connors praised the reporting by Environment Hawaii that first raised red flags about Rudo’s schemes and, she said, led a county employee to alert the FBI.

BIPC is adding the Oʻo award because of Tummon’s exceptional work, but is also noting that this award, much like the Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational, will in the future be awarded only when exceptional circumstances exist.

The Big Island Press Club will hold an awards luncheon to present the awards and honor the winners. Tickets to attend this event will be available to both club members and non-members. As with the ongoing Newsmaker luncheons, including one in Hilo on March 25 involving the recent Mauna Loa eruption, tickets can be purchased online about a month beforehand at bigislandpressclub.org.

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