Maui Council Meetings to Continue Via Video Conferencing Despite Urging by Mayor to Allow In-Person Testimony

July 29, 2020, 8:47 AM HST · Updated July 29, 8:47 AM
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Maui County Council Chair Alice Lee says Council meetings will continue via video conferencing, despite suggestions from the mayor to reopen the 8th floor Chamber and allow in-person testimony.

Mayor Michael Victorino made the request last week, citing concerns over transparency saying there had been instances of technical glitches such as dropped calls and disconnections.

Chair Lee said the county’s executive-branch boards and commissions are meeting via BlueJeans, and many community events are being rescheduled to online settings or later meeting dates to comply with public-health officials’ social-distancing recommendations.

“Our decisions are guided by our concern for the public’s health and our commitment to accessible government,” Lee said in a press release announcement on Friday. Lee cited concerns over recent record-high COVID-19 numbers for single-day new cases in Hawaiʻi.

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There were record high daily totals reported on Thursday (55), Friday (60) and Saturday (73). There were also 64 cases reported on Sunday and 28 cases on Monday and 47 cases on Tuesday this week.

Lee said the council and its standing committees will continue to meet exclusively via video conference, at least “as long as the governor’s emergency proclamation on COVID-19 remains in effect and perhaps longer if state law is amended.”

The council has been meeting exclusively via videoconferencing since Governor David Ige’s stay-at-home order took effect in late March.

“We have actually increased transparency and accessibility by allowing Lānaʻi, Maui and Molokaʻi residents to testify by phone or Internet from home,” said Lee.  “We’ve even had people testify from their parked cars, from the beach and from the supermarket. It’s never been easier to tell the council how you feel about a bill or resolution.”

The governor’s emergency proclamation, currently effective through Aug. 31, has partially suspended the state’s open meetings act, known as the Sunshine Law, to allow councilmembers to meet and accept testimony via video conference. Lee submitted testimony to the state legislature last month seeking permanent amendments to the Sunshine Law to facilitate online meetings.

“We have demonstrated the success of videoconferencing technology under these extreme conditions, have facilitated ethical meetings ensuring councilmembers would not be excluded from deliberations or a vote due to connectivity issues, and have even improved public engagement,” said Council Vice-Chair Keani Rawlins-Fernandez said in her testimony. “As a Molokai resident, I have long advocated for the ability to testify remotely at county and state meetings.

“It took a pandemic to force us to make it happen for our constituents and now, we should never go back. Everyone has raved about how much easier and more accessible it has been to participate in government, something we, as policymakers should always strive for,” she said.

Chair Lee said, “For a multi-island county like ours, videoconference meetings ensure that constituents and even councilmembers who reside far from the county seat of Wailuku continue to have an equal opportunity to be heard.  I am not willing to let political pressure dictate decisions that impact public health and safety.”

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