Waves of information
Hawaii tied for second in the nation on access to information, and one of just three states to score a C-, the best grade in the category. Relatively strong open meetings and public records laws — coupled with a separate state agency charged with interpreting, advising and enforcing the law and a commitment to releasing information in an open data format — buoyed a score that was nonetheless brought down by backlogs of appeals, at least two of which recently took four years to resolve.
Hawaii received its highest score, an 84, or B, in the category of internal auditing, an acknowledgement that its auditor is constitutionally protected against political interference and is free to conduct its work without fear of retribution. Among the states, Hawaii tied for 15th in this category.
A recent evaluation of the state's health-care exchange, set up under the Affordable Care Act, showed Jan K. Yamane, acting state auditor, as a no-holds-barred watchdog ready to initiate investigations and bluntly describe outcomes. Yamane demonstrated she wasn’t afraid to criticize a politically popular program in this overwhelmingly blue state.
“Management’s hasty and inept procurement practices wasted more than $11 million in taxpayer moneys,” Yamane said in a recent report.
No popularity contest
For its ethics oversight, Hawaii ranked second in the nation with a score of 78, a C+ grade.
It's an indication of how seriously Les Kondo, executive director of the Hawaii State Ethics Commission, takes his job. He recently came under fire — and managed to keep his job — after a high-ranking state legislator complained, without naming Kondo explicitly, that he was trying to “rewrite the Ethics Code to conform to his own notions of what constitutes ethical conduct.”
Kondo, whose directives and guidance on accepting meals and gifts and other conduct have upset many state lawmakers since he took the job in 2011, disclosed at a public meeting of the commission last May that an internal performance evaluation rated him “poor” in several areas, including his relationships with other agencies and the news media. “You see me one time every month for two hours. But every month, I work 200 or more hours,” he told the five-member panel.
He won accolades from officials and watchdog groups at that meeting. “He is not afraid to fight the fight that has to be fought,” said Kristin E. Izumi-Nitao, executive director of the state's Campaign Spending Commission.
What, me lobby?
As Kondo drew fire from lawmakers, the Ethics Commission appeared to be blindsided by a self-described “strong and effective advocate and lobbyist” for land developers who was able to promote his group’s interests with legislators for seven years without registering as a lobbyist or submitting the required periodic disclosure forms.
David Arakawa, executive director of the Land Use Research Foundation, which lists two dozen major landowners and developers as members, testified often at legislative hearings. But Arakawa, who once served as top legal counsel for the city of Honolulu, told the Ethics Commission he didn't believe the lobbyist laws applied to him.
After wrapping up an investigation last February, the commission said Arakawa “likely” violated the law, but, in the end, concluded: “Mr. Arakawa appeared to have genuinely misunderstood the law." He was able to negotiate a $2,000 fine for himself and another $2,000 fine for the developers’ group.
Given such enforcement of state lobbyist laws, it's no surprise Hawaii scored 55, or an F, in lobbying disclosure, making it 37th in the nation.