New group pushes for open records enforcement

By Paul Drewes
Published On: Aug 21 2013 03:04:20 PM HST
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HONOLULU -

Many know about the government spying on U.S. residents, but did you know some government agencies are also stopping residents from seeing their own records?

Records which, by law, should be public.

Millions of your dollars are spent on important things like roads and schools but sometimes your money is wasted or misused.

There are documents in government agencies detailing what happens to that money. The problem is the public records aren't always readily available to the public.

"It is a frustrating experience, but it shouldn't be," said University of Hawaii Journalism Professor Gerald Kato.

Under the government's Freedom of Information Act, many requested public files should be released, but some agencies still delay the documents or stop them from ever seeing the light of day.

"Secrecy is for losers. If you've got nothing to hide release the information," said Kato.

There are several legitimate reasons why a record may not be made public. However, many times fraud, abuse or waste uncovered may simply makes a department look bad.

"It is going to be embarrassing. Embarrassment is not a good enough reason for withholding information though," said Kato.

Going to court to get that information can be costly and time-consuming, another large roadblock in the release of public records.

Brian Black with the newly formed Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest wants to see just how transparent Hawaii's government really is and where problems are with public records.

"We'd like to learn more about roadblocks people are having with access to documents, access to meetings," said Black.

Black will also use his legal muscle as an attorney to improve the response from government agencies, even taking cases to court.

So everyone, from journalists to regular citizens, will be able to watch over our government.

"This is the citizen's government and the citizens should have some access to information to make sure the government is doing what they think they are doing," said Kato.

The new law center is funded by the Hawaii Community Foundation and will open its doors next month along Fort Street.

In the meantime, Black has already started investigating a number of public record complaints.

If you have run into problems with the release of public information, you can email him at:

info@civilbeatlawcenter.org

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