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UH proposal to limit public testimony draws fire

Published On: Jul 12 2013 06:59:41 PM HST
Updated On: Jul 12 2013 07:14:40 PM HST

Public input could be squelched under a plan before the Board of Regents. KITV4's Catherine Cruz takes a closer look at how an idea to boost efficiency could backfire.

HONOLULU -

From tuition hikes, to secret research the issues that have drawn passionate public testimony before the regents over the years have run the gamut.

 "This is going to cost our family $40,000,” said one testifer in a previous meeting about tuition.

 "You never even listened," another told board members during a another hearing about a research contract with the military.

But those voices could get muted under a recommendation buried in report presented before the regents Thursday.

  "Everything is not perfect," said Lawrence Rodriguez, a volunteer with a task group charged with reviewing  board policies and practices.

He told members that generally,  UH is in step with other universities although he did cite governance issues and a need to establish a whistleblowers program.

But a short section in the draft report includes a recommendation to boost efficiency that some find alarming.

It notes: "Establish a prescribed total amount of time for public input."

Public interest watchdog groups are wary of a suggestion made in the interest of efficiency, not the public good.

"It is the people's university. We pay for it with our tax dollars. It the public is entitled to be very much of decision-making," said Chris Connybeare, of the Hawaii Media Council.

 J. N. Musto, the head of university's faculty union is a regular at board meetings. He said any such move would essentially limit public input on a first-come first served basis.

Connybear agrees.

"First come, first served, so that means the  people who are on top of this and who are may be a lobbyist or who have a  professional interest will be the ones who get their names on the agenda and how does the average person  know when these things happen?” said Connybeare.

University spokeswoman Lynne Waters said the recommendation would only limit testimony at full board meetings. She said the report also suggests more committee meetings which would allow for unlimited public comment.

But at Thursday’s three committee meetings, no one signed up to testify.

The big question is whether the Board of Regents will act on the recommendation. Some critics of the board suspect the move may be a way to silence them, and they plan to show up at next week’s board meeting.

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