Effective March 22, 2023, Kaua‘i County became the only county in Hawai‘i whose citizens are not allowed to testify via Zoom or other remote technology.
The reason given: “If we cannot get back online (after a power outage) within 30 minutes, we need to redo the meeting. Not just pick up where we left off, but repost the meeting …Everything that happened up to this point would be null and void.” TGI 03-17-23.
According to the Office of Information Practices (OIP), this already minuscule risk can be eliminated by simply rewording the public notice posted with the agenda.
The county is aware of this fact, yet remote testimony remains banned at county council, planning commission and other official “public” meetings.
While I understand the desire for expediency, and shorter meetings — reducing the public’s ability to testify is not the way to get there.
The OIP administers “meeting requirements” for all public agencies.
To determine what advice the OIP actually provided to councilmembers, I submitted a Uniform Information Protection Act (UIPA) request. https://oip.hawaii.gov/forms/
My request was specific:
“A copy of any email communications between the Office of Information Practices and any member or members of the Kaua’i County Council that occurred after 03/01/23 and the date upon which this request is acted upon (04/14/23) that discusses or references the use of remote interactive conference technology (ICT) testimony or “Zoom like” testimony. And any communications…between Council staff and OIP.”
I expected to see a flurry of emails between various council members and the OIP, but there was nothing. Council members may have reviewed the OIP website or spoken to someone by telephone, but there were no written inquires preceding or immediately following the decision to cancel remote testimony.
After further dialogue, I discovered that County Attorney Matthew Bracken emailed the OIP on March 23 — the day after the council’s no-zoom policy began.
Mr. Bracken’s question: “Can a board hold an in-person meeting but allow the public to testify via zoom and still be considered an in person meeting not subject to the requirements of HRS 92-3.5?”
OIP responded in part:
“1 – …while OIP has not issued a formal opinion on the matter, OIP generally advises that a board can hold an in-person meeting where the public attends and testifies in person, and it can additionally allow the public to testify via zoom as a courtesy or additional option without having to meet the other requirements in HRS 92-3.5.”
“If a board chooses to offer a remote link…as a courtesy, it may place restrictions on testifying, such as requiring preregistration. Also, should the board lose its courtesy ICT connection during an in person meeting or a multi-site meeting, the board may continue the meeting.”
The county attorney replied on March 24th, “…I think we may proceed with option 1… Our notice will state that it is an in-person meeting that allows remote testimony as a courtesy but if the remote technology fails for any reason the meeting will proceed in person without any delays. Our notice will not contain a zoom/teams link but it will be provided to anyone that requests to testify via remote technology 24 hours prior to the start of the meeting. Our meeting rooms don’t all have the technology set up so the last requirement would give us time to set up the necessary equipment prior to the meeting.”
Kaua‘i County should lead in expanding public participation in government, not lead in restricting it. My hope is that the county will soon reverse its decision and allow citizens to once again testify remotely — like every other county does.
Please share your feelings with councilmembers (email@example.com) and mayor (firstname.lastname@example.org) as well — politely and professionally please.
Unfortunate short sighted decision against needed testimony that supports out democracy