The Big Island Press Club’s annual Lava Tube and Torch of Light awards are out. The Torch of Light, given to “an individual or organization which brightens the public’s right to know.” is shared this year by the two dozen scientists and staff at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory for their efforts in keeping the public informed about the ongoing lava crisis in Puna. The Lava Tube, which the club uses to shine a light on a person or group who’s done a notable job of keeping the public in the dark, goes this year to state Chief Elections Officer Scott Nago for his lack of communication during the 2014 Primary Election.
Nago’s sins were illuminated in the club’s press release on the awards:
“Because of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Iselle, an estimated 8,000 voters were either without electricity or in some cases physically unable to get to the polls for voting on Primary Day, Saturday, August 9. In addition, two polling locations at Hawaiian Paradise Park and Keonepoko Elementary School were closed, with only a small handwritten sign at the entrance informing voters the poll was closed.
“When the initial announcement was made of the poll closure on Friday night, August 8, at a televised press conference, the state’s Attorney General said makeup voting for those who should have voted at the closed polls would be by mail, within three weeks.
“Three days later, Nago announced voting for only those people whose polls were closed would be by walk-in voting on the following Friday, August 15, 2014. That decision was to be communicated to affected voters via mail–at a time when many people still had no electricity, trees were still down, and in some cases residential mailboxes were inaccessible.
“When asked how he would ensure that voters were informed of the change, Nago said it was in the hands of the U. S. Postal Service.
The release also noted that many residents from other areas in the district, aside from Keonepoko and HPP, were also unable to vote because of storm conditions, but got no chance to vote afterwards.
Nago’s response to the storm “denied their opportunity to have a say in local, state, and the nationally important election for United States Senate.”
The Torch of Light Award came from the response to Puna’s other great crisis of nature last year: the lava flows that repeatedly threatened to inundate Pahoa and cut off much of lower Puna. “The team at HVO has worked tirelessly to keep updated and accurate information available to the media and to residents,” noted the club’s press release.While they are skilled and dedicated scientists, they are not typically tasked with working so closely with the public. Working alongside county, state and federal agencies–including the Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency–team members managed to take a complicated, unpredictable situation and provide easy-to-understand information that helped relieve residents’ stress. They provided HVO staff members as featured speakers at daily media briefings and weekly public meetings…. BIPC members noted the scientists repeatedly went above and beyond their job description, sharing their knowledge directly, plainly and with candor.