Yes, that’s right, in a 4 to 2 vote (CM Chock was absent), a majority of the Kauai County Council changed its own internal rules to prevent any Councilmember from asking questions of the public when they testify. If Chair Mel Rapozo permits, Councilmembers may ask testifiers to repeat or restate their position, but no questions pertaining to the substance of the testimony shall be permitted from this day forward.
As you may have surmised: Councilmember Yukimura and I were the lone two dissenting votes. We attempted to convince our 4 colleagues to at the minimum defer the item to allow a proper public hearing and allow Councilmember Chock to participate in the vote and discussion but the majority faction of 4 declined our request.
A story with additional information was published in The Garden Island: http://thegardenisland.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/no-question-about-it/article_eb656944-0903-5ab4-ae57-33174979b315.html
Only one person testified in support of the Rule change of the 4 persons from the public who were present and offered testimony. 2 others opposed the measure and another individual was non committal. (Note: The original version of this blog incorrectly stated that no one testified in support of the measure.)
The actual verbatim FIRST CHANGE that was added is below and represents the new rule addition in its entirety:
10) “The Chair may allow Councilmembers to ask speakers to repeat or rephrase statements during their testimony, but Councilmembers shall not ask questions that give the speaker a greater opportunity to testify than others. Council members shall not ask speakers about the substance of their testimony, or comment on testimony or speakers during the testimony period.”
The key words of course are “may” and “shall”.
The SECOND CHANGE to the rules are the deletion of the following that is in bold:
(e) Conduct of Public Hearings.
(1) Public hearings are held to receive testimony from the public. Councilmember shall reserve their opinions, questions, and arguments for the appropriate Council or Committee meeting; [except that Councilmembers may ask clarifying questions that enable the Council to better understand the point or position of the speaker.]
So – In addition to prohibiting Councilmembers from asking testifiers questions of substance, the new rules also delete a Councilmembers ability to ask clarifying questions to better understand the point or position of a speaker during a public hearing.
What makes the entire scenario even more surreal in a Catch-22 kind of way – The new rules essentially say: At a Public Hearing Councilmembers shall reserve their questions for the appropriate Council or Committee meetings. However Councilmembers are not allowed to ask any questions of substance at those same Council or Committee meetings and only (with the Chairs permission) may ask the testifier to repeat or rephrase and in fact cannot ask questions regarding the substance of the testimony at all.
The Kauai Council Rules in their entirety can be found here: http://www.kauai.gov/Portals/0/Council/Documents/ResolutionNo2015-02Draft1.pdf?ver=2015-04-22-131447-577
The Chair of the Council stated the purpose of the rule changes was to prevent “grandstanding” by Councilmembers and “badgering the testifier”. It was claimed that several un-named members of the public complained that they felt uncomfortable when Councilmembers asked them questions or put them on the spot. It was also claimed that the new rules were based on Maui County Council Rules and Practice.
For the record, Maui County Council Rules do not prohibit Councilmembers from asking questions of substance nor do they prohibit Councilmembers from asking clarifying questions. The actual practice of the Maui County Council is that after every testifier presents their testimony the Chair actually invites the Maui Councilmembers to ask clarifying questions. “Is there any need for clarification?” or similar is asked of Councilmembers after every testifier.
The pertinent section of the Maui Council Rules is as follows:
3. Conduct. Testimony shall pertain to items on the meeting agenda. Testifiers shall direct their remarks to the presiding officer and not to any individual Councilmember or person in the audience. The presiding officer may allow members to ask testifiers to repeat or rephrase statements made during their testimony, but members shall not ask questions that give a testifier a greater opportunity to testify than others. Members shall not comment on testimony or testifiers during the testimony period.
The entire Rules for the Maui County Council are here:
Hawaii County Council Rules state in part:
“During public testimony, Council members may ask the testifier a specific question, as opposed to making any comment of approval or disapproval or otherwise, and may request submission of specified additional information.” And also states: “Council Members shall refrain from making comments or asking questions of testifiers during statements from the public. All deliberation and discussion on an agenda item must take place after the item has been read into the record and a motion is pending on the floor. A Council Member may, however, request that a person presenting public testimony on an agenda item be available for questions during subsequent discussion.”
The entire Rules for the Hawaii County Council are here:
I was unable to easily locate the Rules for the City and County of Honolulu and will locate and update this post with that info in the near future.
Thank you for bringing this to our attention, Gary. I can’t imagine that any good will come out of this new policy. If anyone felt uncomfortable responding to questions, I think the better response would have been for the chair to moderate the situation better.
Perhaps the most bizarre part is that presumably the purpose of public testimony is to provide the council with pertinent information that community members may have and that councilmembers may lack. But apparently Mr Rapozo thinks that the purpose of testimony is to provide the public with the opportunity to present uninformed and unsubstanitive opinions.
Seemingly, since questions on the substance of public testimony are banned, that leaves only frivolous questions.
I’m not sure what it is about having shorter meetings that is so appealing- I guess the majority has better things to do than fact-finding. Perhaps we should consider former Mayor Kusaka’s infamous suggestion that we just stop having council meetings altogether.
Asking questions is a powerful tool. Often those who testify are not professional speakers and may get flustered, questions can offer a chance to clarify opinions or information. A well informed speaker can shed new light on a subject the council members may wish to explore. Preventing any Council member from asking questions of the public when they testify? That does not feel like government by the people for the people… disturbing… very disturbing.
“Friendship to be real must ever sustain the weight of honest differences however sharp they be”
(attributed to Gandhi) How does any one discern truth without a question of its rationale? No decision should ever be made until sufficient inquiry is made of the merits it is based on.Questions are the base line of informed decisions.The lack of such begs one question”: Is it ignorance or arrogance that keeps you mute.
Is this even Constitutional? The Chair was elected same as the other Council members, not to some exalted position that gives veto power over other members to ask questions or “grandstand.” I hope some grandstanding people’s lawyer takes this policy to a higher court.
Since a majority of council supported the rule change, I believe it is legal.
Thanks Gary. Sad and laughable all at once. This and other decisions like this means that there is a mountain of work to do before the next election. We need to find some viable and electable candidates to replace the four.
UNREAL! Sorry! We will be heard!