It’s Not About the Tree – How a Process was Subverted and a Community Divided

The November 2017 meeting of the Hawaii Kai Neighborhood Board was the toughest public meeting I’ve ever been to, with emotions running high.  Members of the community who attended the meeting spoke passionately about their desire to support a lighted tree at Maunalua Bay, except the item on the agenda that evening was not about a tree . . . it was about a process that did not follow the law or include proper disclosures.

Following is a timeline of events related to the city’s acceptance of a gift of a lighted tree at Maunalua Bay:

  • April 26, 2017 – First reading of Bill 40 to create an adopt-a-tree-program to be administered by the city Department of Parks and Recreation is passed by council.
  • May 2, 2017 – Bill 40 discussed in Committee of Parks, Community and Customer Services. The director of DPR opposed the resolution.
  • May 10, 2017 – Bill 40 passed second reading by full council.
  • May 30, 2017 – At the meeting of the Hawaii Kai Neighborhood Board, Councilmember Ozawa announced that a bill was introduced to adopt the tree at Joe Lukela Beach Park.  I was asked by a board member to monitor the progress of Bill 40.
  • August 22, 2017 – Bill 40 was placed on the agenda of the council’s parks committee, but it was cancelled prior to the meeting.
  • October 24, 2017 (morning) – Resolution 17-278, which is for approval of acceptance of a gift of a trellis system and solar powered panels to power lights for a tree, was discussed in the parks committee.  The gift was valued at $58,000, but there was no mention of the location of this gift.  (Edit for clarification — there was no mention of the location of the gift in the resolution.)
  • October 24, 2017 (evening) – Resolution 17-278 was not mentioned during Councilmember Ozawa’s report at the Hawaii Kai Neighborhood Board meeting.
  • November 1, 2017 – Resolution 17-278, CD1, was not on the agenda that was posted prior to the meeting, but it was “sunshined” onto the agenda unanimously by councilmembers near the end of the meeting, after most members of the public had left.  The CD1 version of the resolution stated a value of $40,000.
  • November 6, 2017 – Two requests were received for agenda items for the November 28, 2017, meeting of the Hawaii Kai Neighborhood Board:  1) A local nonprofit organization requested to have a discussion about the process of acceptance of the gift of a lighted tree, and 2) Councilmember Ozawa, through his staff, requested to have a discussion about the lighting of the tree at Maunalua Bay. The board voted to support more openness and discussion regarding issues of this type in the future

According to Hawaii Revised Statutes Sec. 92-7, the council is not allowed to change an agenda once it has been filed if an item is of “reasonably major importance” and will “affect a significant number of persons.”  The state Office of Information Practices has also stated that agenda items must include “sufficient detail and specificity,” so that members of the public understand what is to be discussed without having to look elsewhere.  The council did not follow the Sunshine Law with respect to this gift, and that was the main concern of members of the Hawaii Kai Neighborhood Board.

Council Bill 40 – status and communications

Council Resolution 17-278 status and communications

Testimony of Hawaii Kai Neighborhood Board 12-6-17

Testimony of Natalie Iwasa 12-6-17

Video recording of Hawaii Kai Neighborhood Board Meeting November 28, 2017

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