The Big Island Press Club has given the Democratic PartyHouse District 5 Council the dubious honor of the 2013 Lava Tube Award for its behind-closed-doors handling of a special election naming three nominees to replace Rep. Denny Coffman, who left in the middle of his term. District 5 covers Kailua-Kona, Kealakekua, Captain Cook, Ocean View and Naalehu.
Kenoi is receiving the Torch of Light, an award given to an individual or organization who brightens the public’s right to know, for his persistence in trying to increase government transparency with a package of ethics reforms.
The Big Island Press Club gives the Lava Tube and the Torch of Light awards annually on Freedom of Information Day, March 16, the birthday of James Madison.
In the case of the Lava Tube, BIPC wants to make it clear that it is not commenting on the merits of the candidate appointed to that post, Richard Creagan. Instead, the Lava Tube is awarded because the process was closed to public and media scrutiny,unlike similar procedures recently used to pick state senators.
The secrecy — so insidious that participants had to sign confidentiality agreements in order to vote and even the county Democratic Party chairman was barred from the meeting — led to accusations by one candidate that the election was rigged. An investigation by the party found no wrongdoing.
Because of the lack of transparency, it’s not totally clear who actually selected the three candidates from a field of nine.Creagan, who was chairman of the District 5 Council at the time, recused himself from voting and did not attend the meeting although he had the right to do both, under the rules.
It is to the credit of the state Democratic Party and Hawaii County Democratic leadership that new rules are to be voted on at the party convention in May to prevent the failings of the past election.
The House party process was in marked contrast to two recent procedures filling Big Island democratic seats in the state Senate. In those two cases in 2011, the meeting where the party election was held was open to the public, and the press reported on the finalists immediately after the election.
Kenoi is honored for bucking the county establishment in trying multiple times to get an ethics bill passed by the Hawaii County Council.
The essence of the proposal is that county employees may be an employee or a contractor of the county, but not both. In advocating complete transparency for county government, Mayor Kenoi’s bill prevents the appearance of county employees using their status to unfairly secure significant, large county contracts.
Mayor Kenoi introduced ethics reforms bills in 2009 and 2013. The County Council has so far taken no action. The current ethics reform bill, already postponed twice by the County Council, is on the Finance Committee Agenda for Tuesday, March 18.
The Big Island Press Club has given the Lava Tube and the Torch of Light awards annually since 1997. Gov. Ben Cayetanohas the distinction of being the only person to win both the Lava Tube in 1998 and the Torch of Light in 2000. The Hawaii County Council has won a Lava Tube four times.
The Big Island Press Club was founded in 1967 and is the oldest continually active media organization in the state of Hawaii.
Born in 1751, Madison was an author of the U.S. Constitutionand a “Federalist Papers” author and one of the nation’s foremost advocates for government openness.
(Submitted by Nancy Cook Lauer.)