My apologies for throwing the entire Hawaii County Department of Public Works under the bus for the following post. Please see the above post or click here for the correction as Ms. Noelani Whittington, from the DPW, is the sole recipient of this award.
The Big Island Press Club has selected the Hawaii County Department of
Public Works as the recipient of its Lava Tube Award for 2008. The dubious
honor highlights the worst violation of government openness in the state.
In an unexpected twist, the Torch of Light Award goes to Gov. Linda Lingle
and the Hawaii State Legislature for passing a journalism shield law.
Public Works “wins” this year for a memo that Public Information Officer
Noelani Whittington wrote in mid-November directing employees on how to
handle media requests. Whittington’s job is to improve the flow of
information between the government and the public, who has every right to
know what is going on. Instead, she instructed employees not to speak to
the media, not to discuss the causes of problems and how to stop the
photographing or videotaping of baseyards and road projects.
More egregiously, the since-rescinded memo names several individuals -
Dave Corrigan, Aaron Stene and Damon Tucker – who were not to receive any information from the department. That directive flies in the face of the
County Charter requirement that “all persons shall be treated in a
courteous, fair and impartial manner.” It appears the exception to “all
persons” is bloggers, because as the memo stated, “They are not
journalists. They write what they think.” The freedom to write what we
think is a basic human right, not a reason to withhold information.
Every year since 1997, the BIPC has given a Lava Tube dishonorable mention to the Hawaii State Legislature for its self-exemption from the Sunshine Law. While the BIPC continues to support closing that loophole, this year the club’s Board of Directors chose to recognize the lawmakers for
something they did right.
In 2008. Reps. Blake Oshiro, Kirk Caldwell, Glenn Wakai, Gene Ward and
Tommy Waters introduced a journalism shield bill, which the Legislature
passed with no “nay” votes, and which Gov. Linda Lingle signed into law.
The law is not perfect. The BIPC supports a strengthening of its
provisions in the future and is concerned about the repeal date of June
30, 2011. Yet a weakened shield law is better than nothing, and helps to
ensure the free flow of information to the public.
The Lava Tube and Torch of Light awards are announced each year on March 16, which is celebrated nationwide as Freedom of Information Day on the birthday of James Madison, the foremost champion of openness in government among the nation’s founding fathers. Madison was born in 1751.
The Big Island Press Club was founded in Hilo in 1967. The Lava Tube and
Torch of Light awards have been presented annually since being established
on the occasion of the Club’s 30th anniversary in 1997.
PREVIOUS LAVA TUBE WINNERS:
2006 Kauai County Council, Honolulu City and County Council
2005 Third Circuit District Court Judge Matthew Pyun
2004 State Land Board Chairman Peter Young
2003 State Sen. Calvin Kawamoto
2002 University of Hawaii Board of Regents
2001 University of Hawaii Board of Regents
2000 State Rep. Eric Hamakawa, Hawaii County Councilman James Arakaki
1999 Hawaii County Council
1998 Hawaii Gov. Ben Cayetano
1997 Hawaii County Councilman Elroy Osorio